Martin Luther King III delivered the fifth annual “Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Address” at Strong Auditorium last Friday, honoring his father’s legacy as a civil rights leader.

The speech was the pinnacle of a week-long celebration of diversity that included a leadership retreat, a charity basketball tournament, a multi-faith celebration, a film-screening and various dance performances.

“Individually, we’ve made great strides – collectively we have not arrived,” King said. “Racial discrimination continues to undermine America’s credibility as a land of equality and opportunity.”

Throughout his speech, King alluded to issues relating to war, poverty and race. At times, he paused for applause from an audience, composed of President Joel Seligman, Dean William Scott Green, faculty, students and members of the Rochester community.

“It is valuable that we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and we have the honor of having his son [to do so],” senior Colleen Colburn said. “This is important in a school that values diversity and in a city that thrives in it.”

The event was preceded by a press conference where faculty and local reporters got a chance to ask King questions regarding his stance on Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, politics and other issues regarding King’s role as a human rights advocate and community leader.

The press conference was then followed by a reception during which Green formally welcomed King to the celebration.

“In my generation, there is no one who has done more for more people in more ways than King, Jr.,” Green said. “He held up mirrors of morality and showed us how that we could be better.”

Parts of King’s speech highlighted his father’s principles of non-violence to combat hatred and discrimination. He emphasized the self-discipline that it takes to implement these techniques, even in the face of oppression. He also explained how these ideals could be used to face modern-day conflicts.

“Our nation is judged by how it treats its most precious resources,” King said. “Our greatest resources are our children.”

During the a brief question and answer period, a seven-year old child from the audience asked how old King was when his father died. King took the question as an opportunity to expose the human side of the civil rights leader.

“The thing that I missed most about my father were the times we spent playing football in the back yard, or going to the YMCA to exercise, or traveling to demonstrations,” King said. “I saw him go to jail so many times that I thought the only way to get anything done was to go to jail first.”

The commemorative speech was sponsored by the College Diversity Roundtable and the Office of the President.

“For this year’s speech, we looked for someone who had greatly contributed to civil rights and social justice,” BSU President and member of the Diversity Roundtable Marquis Harrison said. “King served as the person to connect the students to someone who was so important to the civil rights movement.”

King is currently the President and CEO of the King Center, an institution whose mission is to continue Martin Luther King, Jr.’s non-violent movement for peace and justice. He was elected President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1997.

As President, King initiated programs that provide employment opportunities for high school dropouts, raise awareness of babies suffering from the effects of maternal drug abuse and connect young African-American males with mentors.

“The torch of leadership is being passed to your generation,” King said as he addressed the students. “Rise up and lead.” Fernandez can be reached at

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