GW Trustee Reflects on the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Roslyn M. Brock said the work of the civil rights leader strongly influenced her career.

January 28, 2023

Roslyn Brock

GW trustee Roslyn Brock, M.S. '89, said it's important to ask "What are you doing for others?" (William Atkins/GW Today)

The day after Roslyn M. Brock, M.S. ’89 and a member of the George Washington University Board of Trustees, graduated from high school, her parents got divorced. It was a significant life change that led Brock to worry about how she was going to pay for college.

The pastor of her church recognized Brock’s academic acumen and volunteer work and then mobilized the church community to support her. A church member helped her complete a scholarship application, personally drove the application to Richmond, Virginia, and advocated for Brock to receive a full-ride scholarship to Virginia Union University.

“My life’s trajectory would have changed if I did not have a community who believed in education as the gateway to unlimited economic opportunity and potential,” Brock said. “Where would I be if it had not been for my beloved community?”

That episode in her life led Brock to vow to live out the values King preached about and was embodied in the words of one of his favorite gospel hymns “If I can help somebody as I travel along, then my living will not be in vain.”

Today, Brock is the chief global equity officer of Abt Associates, a nationally recognized health policy and equity advocate, and a noted public speaker. She also holds the distinct honor of being the youngest person, fourth woman, and unanimously elected national board chair for the NAACP. And she has earned three master’s degrees and been awarded four honorary doctorate degrees.

Brock shared with GW community members the impact King’s work has had on her life and why his message is still relevant today in a discussion she led Tuesday at the Elliott School of International Affairs, titled “Leadership, Legacy and Influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in My Professional Journey.”

“I have a responsibility to do my part to ensure that I make a difference in the lives of others,” Brock said. “So, I stand here today affirming what Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

When looking at the problems of today, King’s teachings are still as impactful as they were while he was alive, Brock said.

“As we reflect on the dream and the dreamer, I believe that our global village finds itself at what some may regard as a 'CPR' moment,” Brock said. “It is a moment characterized by Covid-19, Political unrest and Racial hostility, where hearts are failing and individuals across the length and breadth of this nation are finding it difficult to breathe.”

She said King’s dream of an equitable America where people of all races can come together is what the United States should continue to strive toward. Brock brought up statistics that highlighted persistent problems of inequality in this country that place people of color at a disadvantage when it comes to health care, education and income.

“Since 1950, there's been no measurable progress toward income or wealth equality between Black and white households in the United States,” she said. “Black Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of their white counterparts, and they’re sentenced to 19 percent longer terms for the same crimes. Black women are twice as likely to experience maternal death at birth than white women and Black infant deaths are 2.3 times higher than white infant deaths.”

While it can be disheartening to see the level of inequality that still exists in the United States, what gives her hope is this generation of young activists who will be the change agents to bring about a brighter and better future. Brock’s motto is “Courage will not skip this generation.”

Speaking directly to Elliott School students, Brock said the university is training them to be ambassadors and world citizen leaders who understand the purpose of democracy is a shared vision of liberty and justice for all towards the common good. King’s teachings assert the role of the beloved community in working towards that common good.

During a Q & A, a GW student asked Brock how she keeps hope while looking at all the divisiveness in the United States and realizing the country is still fighting the same fight as King all these years later.

Brock explained that the weathering effects of inequitable social and economic conditions have left many in communities of color exhausted from the influences of discrimination, bias and microaggressions. However, she believes armed with faith, courage and an unwavering commitment to the ideals of liberty, justice, freedom and equality, we can achieve the goals of Dr. King’s beloved community.

“We’ve come a long way from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but we still have a long way to go,” she said. With each generation, young people are finding their voice and challenging us to fight on until greater victories are won.”