WATERLOO, Iowa --- Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and John F. Kennedy won't return from the dead.
That means folks should stop waiting for their leadership. Instead, people should look for new faces, becoming leaders themselves, according to Leonard Pitts, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newpaper columnist whose work often appears in The Courier.
And the cause worth fighting for is that of the less fortunate.
"Nobody defends the poor; no one speaks on their behalf," Pitts told an audience Thursday morning at Allen College in Waterloo.
"Poor" doesn't mean black, or white, or Hispanic, he noted. But sometimes people fall into that trap, using coded language like "deserving poor" and "welfare mothers" to refer to specific racial groups.
"It isn't that George W. Bush doesn't care about black people," he said, referring to a quote by entertainer Kanye West. "It's that most of us don't care about poor people."
Pitts addressed policy makers, community organizers, religious leaders and students during the 12th annual Cedar Valley Conference on Human Rights, presented by the Waterloo Commission on Human Rights.
It was Pitts' first trip to Waterloo, according to Abraham Funchess, the commission's executive director. Previously, Funchess helped get Pitts, who works for the Miami Herald, to Des Moines and Iowa City.
Funchess said he believed Waterloo leaders could fight harder for the poor in general "if we continue to focus on issues marginalizing us. (Pitts) said we sometimes lack the imagination."
LaTanya Graves works at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center of Hawkeye Community College. She thought Pitts' message of disagreement between poor racial groups was accurate and agreed they should unite.
"So many of us are fighting against each other because we don't interact," Graves said. "There are so many people who are truly passionate about it ... We could be the community that starts the movement."
Pitts also took questions on politics, the judicial system and the ways young people can get involved and be heard.
"A rotary telephone and a mimeograph --- that's how the Montgomery bus boycott started," Pitts said. "Look at what you've got --- Facebook, Twitter --- all of this communication and revolution right at your fingertip. You can organize in ways Martin Luther King Jr. and his people could only dream of."
Dorothy Sallis, a retired juvenile court officer from Waterloo, appreciated Pitts' encouragement of youth.
"I'm 85. I want to hear what they have to say," Sallis said. "I've had my say."