Speaker Series Brings Rev. Barber II to UCM


Social advocate Rev. William J. Barber II gives a speech from the podium in Hendricks Hall. The presentation on Feb. 27 was sponsored by UCM’s Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity. Photo by Natalie Morris.

The Rev. William J. Barber II delivered a speech, “America’s Heart Problem” to an audience of University of Central Missouri students and Warrensburg community members. The speaking event was a part of Unity Week at UCM, a time for celebrating diversity in the campus community. 

  Esosa Akele, graduate assistant with the Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity, helped organize Unity Week. She was pleasantly surprised by the turnout and student response.

  “It was an amazing presentation, a lot of students participated in it,” Akele said. “The purpose of Unity Week was to celebrate unity, diversity and inclusivity within the UCM campus community. The series of events and activities aimed to bring people from different backgrounds, cultures and identities together to create a sense of belonging and mutual respect on campus.”

  Barber is credited as an architect of the Moral Movement and for reviving the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, originally led by Martin Luther King Jr., among others.

  According to the MacArthur Foundation, Barber is a notable advocate for expanding voting rights, the living wage, healthcare, public education and LGBTQ rights.

  “I came to tell you that every generation in America needs a movement that refuses to give up on America,” Barber said. “Don’t just study the history of the people before you, become history. Because in order for a nation to change, when a nation has a heart problem, it takes people with good hearts that won’t give up on that nation to become the moral defibrillator of that nation.”

  Throughout the speech, Barber made reference to “America’s heart problem,” an issue of morality in modern society. Barber said he sees this as an important issue to address at the government level.

  Barber made a point that he was not speaking about race, political parties or other agendas, but rather the needs of poor and low income families in the United States.

  “I am here with a medical report,” Barber said. “A medical report to your generation and mine, since I’m still alive, we have to hear and we have to face because if we don’t there’s no hope for a cure.”

  The social activist’s Unity Week speech challenged current economic issues and how the U.S., including Missouri, is not giving proper care to its large low-income population.

  “We have not raised the minimum wage in America since 2009. 14 years somebody has said $7.25 is enough,” Barber said. “I know what some of you are saying, ‘but that’s not in Missouri.’ 39% of all people in Missouri are poor and low income, that’s 2.3 million residents.” 

  Barber cited a report by the RAND Corporation to emphasize the current economic disparities, saying over $50 trillion were redistributed from the bottom 90% of people in the U.S. to the top 1%.

  Meanwhile, Barber said the issues of low income households are whether or not a family will be able to afford the basic necessities, including housing, utilities and food. 

  Barber said the problems facing poor and low income households supersede racial lines that have long existed in the U.S..

  “What I know is whether you are Black or White or Brown or Asian or whatever you are, if you are poor and can’t pay the light bill, we’re all Black in the dark,” Barber said. “If a child can’t eat, they don’t cry Black. They cry hunger, they cry hurt, they cry pain.”

  According to UCM President Roger Best, speakers like Barber are important to UCM, to challenge our beliefs and encourage thought about social issues.

  “Regardless of where we’re from, regardless of our belief system, it’s always important that we hear from others who agree or disagree so we can reinforce our belief systems or challenge our belief systems,” Best said. 

  According to Best, bringing in speakers to help students hear what others are thinking is the goal of the UCM Speaker Series.

  “Sometimes we agree with them, sometimes we don’t, but really it’s about helping us think more deeply about our own belief systems, the challenges we face as a society, the challenges we face as a country.”