In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Dr. Richard M. Williams was invited to discuss “Torches on the Road of Passage and the Philosophy of MLK, Jr.” at UR on Jan 21.
Williams chose to focus his speech on King’s African-American philosophy. “Martin Luther King had a simple philosophy about the Negro; he should do what he could to bring the Negro up to a status of respect,” Williams said.
He also said that Dr. King felt the first step on this “road of passage” was “to get America to recognize and respond to the Negro.”
Williams suggested that if Dr. King was alive today, he would change his approach and “move from having the society respond to him, to him responding to the society.”
He elaborated by saying that “blacks need to develop a strong unity … think black, act black, support black.”
He stressed that he was not talking about racism but development. “Once the African-American is well, we’ll have a better society,” he said.
Williams revisited Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. He spoke from a modern viewpoint and rewrote MLK’s speech for today’s audience.
He mentioned that Dr. King was not satisfied with the progress he had made in his time and would see celebration of this holiday as premature because racism still plagues today’s society. His amendments to King’s speech addressed issues of blacks owning businesses and, changing the message of the mass media that creates racial divisions.
Williams concluded by stressing the need to “let black freedom ring.” He said that this will bring about the day when “all African- Americans, light skinned, dark skinned, northerners and southerners, literate and illiterate, poor and rich ‘will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro Spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!'”
At the conclusion of Dr. Williams’ remarks, two Warner School students, Natasha Bell and Michael Baker, were invited to respond. Bell felt that “I Have a Plan” would be [King’s] new mantra. She described this as a plan for bettering humanity, attacking not only racism but also the negatives of many other “isms” including classism, sexism, capitalism, corporatism and individualism.
Baker stressed the issue of renewing communities. “I may succeed but if others are suffering my community is not well, [we] need to reach out and be concerned about others,” he said.
Reasons for attending the talk varied. Crystal Bish, a Margaret Warner student, said that she was “interested in a talk that had to do with the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. because I thought the best way to memorialize Martin Luther King, Jr. and his achievements is through education.”
Susan Ruhlin, a social worker at Strong’s HIV/AIDS clinic, agreed. “Rather than having classes or work, have a ‘teaching day,’ where people come together for activities and workshops,” she said.
Susan Keefe, Coordinator for Grants and Public Relations at the Warner School and a member of the committee that organized this discussion explained, “it’s important to connect events that the community is involved in with the way we’re preparing teachers and other educators to go out and teach our children. We started this [series] as a beginning of a larger initiative to integrate not only Martin Luther King day, but other community events into the educational process.”
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