January 18, 2011
King’s message continues to inspire action
Professor recalls activist’s legacy
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “dream” for equality among the races is a message many still remember, and some believe has yet to be fully realized.
SUNY Cortland professor Samuel Kelley believes part of making King’s message come true, at least in today’s society, means dissolving the negative racial and cultural stereotypes and making education more accessible for everyone.
Kelley, a professor of communications studies at the college, discussed King’s speeches, written works and his legacy Monday at the Cortland YWCA’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
“We have a lot more work to do, but I think we’ve been successful in many ways,” Kelley said.
Using his own family as an example, Kelley said he takes pride that nine of 10 members of his family went to college and found success as physicians, teachers and in business.
“But I think King was beginning to realize in his later years that it’s more complicated than that — and that’s one of the issues we’re dealing with,” Kelley said. “One of my criticisms is that we’re not connecting with the younger people on the level we should be ... particularly kids in the inner city and the level of poverty that’s beginning to gnaw at us.”
High unemployment among black and Latino youth is one problem, he said, and another more national crisis in the black community is a declining graduation rate among males in general.
Those with limited financial means are often driven away from a good education when faced with the mounting costs of going to college, which have continued to increase over the years, Kelley said.
King was well educated, and part of what made him stand out and take center stage during his time was eloquent speaking and an ability to apply critical thinking techniques in conveying a message of tolerance, Kelley said.
Activism in the 1960s could be seen through not just the civil rights movement but the Vietnam War, Kelley said. The U.S. Supreme Court had previously ruled in 1954 to make segregation illegal.
“King provided the inspiration,” Kelley said during the YWCA presentation. “Sometimes a spark is what is needed.”
King would be 82 years old now. He was assassinated at age 39 in 1968 by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tenn.
At 35, King received the Nobel Peace Prize and was the second black recipient. He was pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.
Kelley read Monday from King’s renowned “I Have a Dream” speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” and portions of his “Letter From the Birmingham Jail.”
Reading from the “I Have a Dream” speech, Kelley emulated King’s accent, voice and manner of speaking.
“One of the things you can find in King’s speech and essays is you start to think about what made this man tick, how he came to be what he did and then you realize it’s still possible,” Kelley said. “You can use it as an example.”
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