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Happy Watkins

Reverend Happy Watkins is a pastor at New Hope Baptist Church on the Southside of Spokane WA. He helped establish the MLK center as a drop-in center for youth, is a dynamic speaker and works to help young people find fulfilling jobs.
Interviewed by Stacey Eyman
May 2012


    We have moments of peace, but not long-term peace. If I’m enjoying peace for a moment then someone has tragedy in the house; there are foreclosures, job dismissals, hunger, people at odds, lack of understanding. You get up in the morning with expectation of a good day- then it quickly changes.
    Peace takes a very short vacation, then we’re back to trying to understand why things happen. April 4th is etched in my mind- we were having successes in civil rights and then King gets assassinated. It led to questions, civil unrest, riots from coast to coast, unraveling of what King had done.
    I grew up in the Bronx. Martin Luther King was in the South trying to eradicate the Jim Crow Laws. Malcolm X was in the North fighting fire with fire. In New York City there was a different type of unrest. Masses of people of color were housed in projects- thousands and thousands of people trying to exist daily. The church was a way of salvation, of hope, aspiration. It was a sanctuary where it was said, “Don’t give up- there’s a better day ahead.”
    Another part about peace is that you can go around without fear. That’s how I got involved in the schools, so my family could go where they wanted to without fear. I developed a motto: Work to make a difference until making a difference don’t make a difference no more.
    After Martin Luther King died, I started to really get involved and study his life and Jesse Jackson and General Colin Powell. I started memorizing King’s speech. From then on, since 1970, the recital of the speech has taken me all over.
    I don’t talk about civil rights as much as I talk about family, home and the kitchen table. If we’re to survive, to ever have peace, we’ve got to get to the community. It takes a community to raise a child.
    I was the oldest of 10; dad died when I was 16. My mom took whatever means to keep the family together. It was the kitchen table that became reverent and important in the family. Family and the community would tell you to try to get a good education, be a good citizen, respect rights of others, use your head for more than just a hat-rack. That type of enforcement kept us out of jail, out of trouble.
    What’s really, really needed for peace’s sake here in the Spokane community is trying to find suitable employment for young men and young women of color. We also have a huge high school drop out rate. We have more young men locked up in jail than at college. With no jobs, there are no hopes. Even those with college degrees can’t find jobs. That’s what we’re working on. That’s one of the things we can do. It’s a real unrest especially here in this community experiencing the plight of unemployment. We can have some peace if we can get some suitable employment. It’s a huge thing especially in the Inland Empire- very few people of color working in this infrastructure. It just takes time.