DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Amid the celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy Monday are reflections on the current state of the country as the political atmosphere remains charged. The era of protest and unrest calls to mind the time when Dr. King called for great change in America.
Now more than 50 years after his assassination, leaders young and old are using Dr. King’s message to try and heal a divided country.
Reading from a winning essay on a virtual celebration, one Yellow Springs student asked, “When will it end? When will there no longer be people standing in the streets fighting for what should already be theirs? When will we stop hurting people? When will we stop judging people for their differences? When will this end? Will it be soon? Will it end at all?”
Another read, “Martin Luther King, Jr. had dreams and hopes, and so do I. I hope that as we carry on into a new tomorrow, life will be better. I hope everyone will be treated like they’re equally human.”
The students reiterated what most Americans realized the hard way this year: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Message is still needed today.
Dr. Lawrence Burnley is the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Dayton. He says, “I think Dr. King’s message resonates throughout all time because his message was one of justice, one of reconciliation, one of speaking truth to power.”
Back in 1964, Dr. King spoke at the University of Dayton. That snowy November night he spoke about the progress made in the struggle for civil rights, but added, “We still have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.”
56 years later, Dr. Burnley says many of those same problems are not getting better. “Oh absolutely not. And I think the indicators are all over the place.” He mentions widening gaps in education, socioeconomic status, healthcare, and the prison system. “In some ways we’re walking backwards.”
Dr. King spoke at several other academic institutions in the Miami Valley, including Central State and Wilberforce University. And in 1965 Dr. King delivered the commencement address at Antioch College, the alma mater of his wife Coretta Scott King.
In Yellow Springs that day he said, “The new order is coming into being. Whenever anything new comes into history, it brings with it new challenges, and new responsibilities.”
Dr. Burnley says, “There is hope, there is progress, but i think there are difficult days, as Dr. King would say, that are ahead.”
As the country transitions in 2021, students especially envision a new era, and progress for Dr. King. One read, “This year I won’t have to march, we won’t have to carry a weapon to feel safe. We can be protected and not killed, we can have equal rights.”
Another read, “Everybody needs to help. We all need to take responsibility to do the right thing, we need to have tolerance for each other, we all need to be kind and respectful to each other. After all that is done, I think Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will finally be proud.”