University Honors MLK
Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 14:01
“We gather the spirit of our ancestors which moved us from a nation of unborn hopes and a history of discrimination to today’s expression here in this room of a more perfect union,” said Mario Powell, S.J., opening the annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Gathering on Monday evening.
Focusing on the life and legacy of King, the memorial brought together traditional religious elements, such as Bible readings and praise and worship songs, with speeches concerning the consequences of King’s civil rights struggles.
Under the musical direction of David Altenor, an award winning artist, producer, and songwriter and BC ’09, the United Voices of Freedom performed the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We Shall Overcome,” as well as traditional songs of praise, such as “How Great is Our God.” The group was composed of students from Against the Current, B.E.A.T.S., the Liturgy Arts Group, and the Voices of Imani.
Coming from different spheres in and outside of the University, the speakers brought different nuanced understandings of King’s legacy. Tracy Akufo, president of the Black Student Forum and A&S ’13; Chris Osnato, UGBC president and A&S ’13; and Rev. Howard A. McLendon, interfaith campus minister, all greeted the audience, before the two keynote speakers gave their remarks.
“When we look back on the years of the Civil Rights Movement and beyond, it is clear that our nation has come quite a long way,” Akufo said. “Nevertheless, even though we have come far, we have not come far enough. We have silenced many of the injustices taking place with the few advances we have made. The dream has been interrupted halfway, and I believe that it is safe to say that there is much work to be done in our community and our nation.”
In his introduction, McLendon worked to engage the audience in the memorial service, calling to mind the dialogical tradition of the African-American Baptist church, while also bringing some levity and humor to the service.
“In the African-American church, everybody is expected to sing, whether you can sing or not,” McLendon said. “There’s sopranos, altos, tenors, and then none of the above. Whatever God has given you, you use it.”
Representing the student body, Sandra Dickson, Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar and CSON ’13, spoke about the importance of peaceful change and broader meaning of his speeches.
“There is no doubt that Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is one of the greatest in our time,” Dickson said. “Personally, the speech is not just a story, but the untold narrative of millions of Americans, suffering under the weight of injustice. He was bold, determined, and forceful and reminded the country of, what he termed, ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ There are still pockets of discrimination. We must not be satisfied with what is, but strive for what can be.”
After Dickson spoke, Allen Currelley, A&S ’13, introduced the keynote speaker of the event: Rev. Gina Casey, pastor of the Columbus Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church in Boston. The daughter of an ordained Baptist preacher, Casey studied at Howard University and married before answering the call to ministry in the ’80s. She studied Theology at the Fuller Theological Seminary and assumed her current pastoral position in June of 2010.
“I want to talk to you this evening on the path of fearlessness,” Casey began. “The Rev. Martin Luther King could have easily chosen a different path. This man had everything going for him. He could have decided to choose a path that would have allowed him to earn tons of money. But he was a fearless man. He was only 26 years old when he led a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. In the midst of threats, Dr. King was not deterred. He chose a path of service and remained fearless to the very end.”
In addition to the relating the trials that King faced, Casey also recounted the experience she had in Honduras. She talked about her trip to a garbage dump in Tegucigalpa and the poverty she witnessed there. Seeing the plight of the children who had no real hopes for their future, she described the hope she was given by a school recently opened there and extolled the accomplishments of the pastor who set this school up.
“My question for you today is what path have you chosen,” Casey asked. “Have you chosen a path where you can ignore the homeless on the street? If you want the legacy to continue, I challenge you today to step off your primrose path."