MLK speakers call for equality
Standing at a "crossroads on the way to equality," as one speaker said, students and faculty came together in Kay Chapel Wednesday to remember the life of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and pledged to work for social justice in his memory.
The Commemorative Ceremony featured speeches by AU President Benjamin Ladner, student leaders, a performance by AU's gospel choir and a candlelight ceremony. The keynote speaker, Mr. Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau, however, was stalled in traffic and was unable to attend.
In his opening remarks, AU President Benjamin Ladner asked questions he said were fundamental to celebrating the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"How do you do that?" Ladner said. "How do you pay tribute? How do you honor? When I struggle to try to appropriate the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, I'm also dealing with how memory shapes the values that I currently embrace."
Ladner also related one of his experiences talking with Corretta Scott King, King's widow, in Atlanta, Georgia before he became President of AU. "She said, 'I have to struggle to make an icon relevant,'" Ladner said. Ladner encouraged students to listen to live recordings of King's speeches and sermons to better appreciate his mastery of language and rich speaking abilities.
"The sheer cadence and rhythm of his speech, embracing a community of human speech, is deeply enthralling and deeply moving," Ladner said.
David Owens, director of Multicultural Affairs, introduced Thaddeus Horne, president of the Black Student Alliance and Lorenley Baez, former co-director of the Latino and American Student Organization, calling them "both very involved in the King tradition."
Horne, a senior in the School of Communication, encouraged students to reevaluate their attitudes towards social justice and reminded them to take inspiration and encouragement from the life of King and other workers in the Civil Rights Movement.
"We are all guilty of being complacent in the situation we now enjoy, only speaking out when there is a problem that affects us," Horne said. "Don't forget where you came from and those who made it possible for you to be the successes you are today."
Baez, a senior in SOC, emphasized the diversity inherent in King's message and its widespread application to all facets of American society.
"I learned at a very young age that there is more to this world than black and white," Baez said. She said that King was not fighting to liberate only African-Americans, but fighting ignorance and prejudice in general. "[King] was helping to liberate all those who've been marginalized just because they're different," Baez said. In his closing remarks, University Chaplain Joe Eldridge recalled the words and example of King at the garbage workers' strike in Memphis, Tennessee shortly before he was killed. Eldridge encouraged ceremony participants to make a personal commitment to the memory of King.
"As we go forth, let us take the words and the works of Martin Luther King and develop a kind of - dangerous selflessness,'" Eldridge said.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday was first celebrated in 1986, nearly eighteen years after legislation establishing the holiday was first introduced in Congress. It is celebrated on the third Monday of every January, but AU's commemorative ceremony takes place annually on the next Wednesday so that students return from Winter Break in time to participate.