“Let us stand with greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge, to make America what it ought to be.” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On April 3, 2018, the eve of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination, students from local universities gathered at the University of Pennsylvania’s Houston Hall of Flags for a conversation about race. Participating schools included Cairn University, the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s University, and Eastern University. The conversation, centered around racial issues, explored the topic in the context of three current issues in American society: criminal justice, affirmative action, and public education. Attendees discussed these topics in light of Dr. King’s final speech delivered on April 3, 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”
In “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Dr. King condemns the exploitation of the sanitation workers of Memphis and urges the audience to continue seeking justice through nonviolent protest and unity. “The question is not, ‘If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me,’” King asserts, “The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?’ That’s the question.” All in all, Reverend King’s speech continues to challenge Americans to think selflessly amid racial animosity and division.
Much conversation throughout the tables began with brief introductions. Attendees shared how their personal backgrounds have shaped the way they view current issues in American society. Dialogue then further lead to current political issues, such as the disparities in education and legal sentencings, connection between socioeconomic class and ethnic groups, police brutality, and the current state of race relations. Attendees then shared their own personal experiences and contextualized them within these important issues.
A few student attendees also questioned the relevance of Dr. King’s speech in contemporary polarized America and whether racial privilege and inequality truly exist. In response, several faculty member attendees encouraged students to research these topics in more depth; that is, personally talking to and listening to people with different experiences rather than simply retweeting and taking a shallow look at statistics.
Attendees were challenged to carry forward Dr. King’s legacy and words in order to continue making America the great country it ought to be.