Greeted by a knowledge-hungry audience at the Guthart Cultural Center Theater was a journalist well-skilled in his craft: Pulitzer Prize-winning former Newsday columnist Les Payne. Payne was welcomed by Hofstra students and faculty alike this past Wednesday, February 11th, otherwise known as Civil Rights Day. Both the Center for Civic Engagement and the International Science Lecture invited those who were interested to attend Fifty Years after Selma: What Would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X Say about Race Matters Today?
To any in the audience unfamiliar with the work of Payne, Co-Director Linda Longmire was quick to make his achievements known to everyone. The journalist was introduced as a “voice for creative opposition”, whose published works have the power to “pump up powerless victims” and “embod[y] the spirit of investigative journalism.”
Born and raised in Alabama, Payne had gained popularity in his career as a Newsday columnist. One of his major investigations focused on heroin smuggling in New York back in 1974. Payne, a founding member of the National Association of Black Journalists, eventually became an editor at Newsday, before ending his career there in 2006.
With his powerful voice, Payne discussed how he believed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X would respond to the more questionable, race-oriented events of today – which have caused words like “Ferguson” and “Cleveland” to be said with slight hesitation. Throughout the lecture, Payne expressed his belief that Dr. King and Malcolm X would have varying opinions on the shootings in both these cities, as well as the entire United States’ criminal justice system in 2015, and Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American president.
Payne feels Dr. King would be both astounded and honored upon learning about the nonviolent protests carried out by multicultural individuals within this country. Malcolm X, on the other hand, would say nothing on the subject, for he was not only a firm supporter of self-defense, but he , according to Payne, would think the act of simply repeating the phrase “Don’t Shoot” would be too weak of an action.
The journalist’s lecture was followed by questions from a student panel, in which the CCE’s very own Denisse Girón and Natalia Orozco joined other Hofstra students in discussing the future of journalism in an increasingly media-obsessed world. With the involvement of multiple audience members, Payne commented on journalists’ ability to control the media, on the thought of students following through with President Obama’s national dialogue on race, and even on getting at the root of dealing with racism today.