WILMINGTON — In times such as these, the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. continue to be matters of consequence, speakers said during Wilmington College’s annual MLK Day program.
The online event Monday evening carried the theme “You Matter” with many participants wearing You Matter T-shirts, echoing last summer’s Black Lives Matter activism.
New WC President Trevor M. Bates gave his first public address since becoming the college’s 19th president this month. Over the years, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become one of the school’s signature outreach programs to the local community, as the Quaker-founded institution and the nonviolent civil rights and peace activist King share many values.
Bates focused his talk on the question “How do we move forward together?”
Americans have found their way through darkness before, said Bates, who is confident we will do it again.
Banding together is essential, regardless of political, economic, social, religious and other differences, he said.
“We must boil it all down to the fact that each one of us is a human being who deserves dignity, deserves compassion, deserves love,” said the college president.
To move forward, Americans must do three things all starting with the letter “e”, he believes.
One, “educate ourselves, families and our neighbors.” We must understand one another is a human being with desires, needs and love, and that people can work together to help one another.
Two, expose ourselves to people who might love, look and live differently than oneself. Bates believes the characteristics “that add us together” are much greater than the characteristics dividing us.
And three, he believes people must exercise their voice when they see something wrong, adding “we are obligated as members of the human race to help one another succeed.”
He cautioned that “our imperfections will show, and that we will find times as we have in the past where we’ve lost our way, where we are afraid, where we are divided and we find ourselves in darkness.”
There are complicated issues that got Americans to where we are today, he said, citing a history that includes slavery, discrimination, violence, murder and other atrocities “that no one is proud of but nonetheless true.”
That history, he noted, also includes people working as hard as they can to move up the socio-economic ladder, to make a better life for their children, and to plant seeds of a future where their children can see a life and a legacy built on love and compassion for all people.
Although the Declaration of Independence states all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights — a “very powerful idea at the time,” it was also incomplete and intentionally exclusive, said Bates.
It didn’t include women, people of color, or those native to the land, he added. Over many decades, many groups, including the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers) were on the side of those people who were not originally included in the founding documents when it came to equality of citizenship and fundamental rights, he said.
Other members of the campus community gave reflections related to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., including WC Professor of Political Science Michael Snarr and several students.
Like Bates, Snarr noted the country has been divided before, and has seen political violence before.
This is a time to look for spiritual, social and political leadership, and King was such a leader, said the professor.
King “unapologetically sought nonviolent solutions,” pointed out Snarr.
King’s vision of a “beloved community” is of a place “where you matter, no matter who you are,” he elaborated. This is a prophetic and timeless message, said Snarr.
One of the WC student presenters said change can occur if people look inward every now and then, and acknowledge the consequences of the hatred and negativity in their hearts.
During the program, this year’s recipient of the Nedra Gordon Memorial Scholarship was announced. Savannah Manson is a WC junior majoring in biology and health sciences, with a concentration in trauma and pediatric nursing.
She is an active member of the Black Student Initiative, WC PRIDE, and the American Medical Association student group. Manson also works as a peer mentor and a student ambassador.
Musical selections were provided by the Praise Team from Bible Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington, Randy Zimmerman from Cornerstone Baptist Church in Wilmington, and WC alumna Brandi James.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.