Within days of the official announcement of BP's 4.5 billion dollar settlement for their 2010 massive Gulf Coast oil spill, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference put the spotlight on one its own leaders – Dr. Art Rocker – for demanding justice from BP in addressing the claims of minorities and the poor, through the SCLC spin-off organization Operation People For Peace.
With the spill being claimed by Pres. Obama as the largest environmental disaster of U.S. history, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Chairman Dr. Bernard LaFayette, Jr. spoke in terms of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to describe Dr. Rocker's commitment to ensuring BP honors the claims of the poor, particularly minorities.
"Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s efforts were not just about a protest, but a social change. Art Rocker has shown, after a long struggle, that no matter how tragic the situation is, you never give up until you achieve the goal. Dr. Rocker is a shining example for others, especially our young people, to follow in applying nonviolent direct action principles."
Chairman of the SCLC Florida Chapter, and founding Chairman of Operation People For Peace (www.operationpeopleforpeace.org), Dr. Art Rocker formed the spin-off organization under the advisement of Dr. LaFayette, Jr. to undertake a coalition of organizations and faith leaders across the states affected by the BP spill. Rocker described the economic devastation for the affected lower income/poor in graphic terms:
"46 billiion dollars in the fishing industry was lost, along with 1.4 million jobs in the Gulf Coast, but an additional 50 billion dollars and untold number of jobs were lost on a cash economy that minorities and poor people in the Gulf Coast relied upon.
"Landscapers, dishwashers, servers, laborers, carpenters, plumbers and assistants, janitors, taxi drivers, teachers, people who cook fish on the side, mothers who babysat workers' children, small churches and pastors who lost their tithers, barbers, beauticians and helpers in their shops, and others – many of these workers are now living hand to mouth. Many are homeless and many are living in abject poverty."
Rocker's efforts to support this sector, along with local minority hoteliers, restaurants and other small business owners, have not gone unnoticed outside SCLC. Recently awarded for his efforts by one of heavily hit hotel groups, the AAHOA (Asian American Hotel Owners Association), Industry Committee Chairman Jay Patel acknowledged, "BP and elected officials were not taking us seriously about the damage to our business, until Art Rocker began sharing his guidance and leadership with us."
Outspoken in his spiritual devotion to the SCLC cause, the SCLC Chapter Chairman reinforced the power of the principles and leadership of SCLC as vital to the success Operation Peace For People has had thus far – and for the continued operation of ensuring settlements are awarded.
"We're all here at SCLC to worship God," avowed Rocker, "to undertake our responsibility to connect with the underserved, and to honor our pledge that we must serve our country. I am so grateful for the assistance Dr. LaFayette, Jr. has given me, and the commitment our CEO Steele has now made, for the sustainability of our efforts going forward."
Both the SCLC Chairman and CEO emphasized that the journey had not ended. "When you have a settlement," internationally renowned business leader Steele schooled, "there is that judicial aspect. But like the Emancipation Proclamation, following through is something else. And in this case, all races of people have suffered."
Chairman LaFayette, Jr. seconded, "We have a claim on this past disaster, but we need a claim on new life as well. This job is not finished. We've come to a watershed milestone, but we have yet to reach our penultimate goal. With the commitment of our CEO Charles Steele, he can take us there."
"Dr King was concerned about the poor, Steele picked up from LaFayette, "and the numbers of poor are escalating, internationally. Thanks to Dr. LaFayette and Dr. Rocker, SCLC can now point to a national and international effort by SCLC on this issue. Attorney General Holder and President Obama can only do so much. Here at SCLC, we will be organizing, we will be walking, we will be ensuring the CEO of BP follows through, even if we have to march from Paris, France to BP Headquarters in London, England."
Photo: L to R – Charles Steele, CEO; Dr. Bernard LaFayette, chairman Art Rocker, Fla. SCLC chair. Courtesy of Clyde Bradley & SCLC