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Lewis with Dr. Childs

Dr. Lewis chats with retired African American Studies Professor Francine Childs at the brunch

Photo courtesy of: Bryan Riley

ABCD dancers

Athens Black Contemporary Dancers perform during the brunch

Photo courtesy of: Bryan Riley

Anointed ministries

Student group Anointed Ministries sings during the brunch

Photo courtesy of: Bryan Riley

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MLK Day speaker says do not oversimplify MLK legacy


The recent high-profile shootings in Arizona, college partying and the Tunisia revolution were just a few of the topics discussed by R. L'Heureux Lewis when he served as the keynote speaker at Ohio University's Martin Luther King Jr. Day Brunch on Monday.

The 11th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. silent march proceeded the brunch, which drew more than 300 attendees. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Phi Chapter hosted both events.

Lewis, an assistant professor of sociology, black studies, and public policy at the City College of New York, is a leading scholar and activist in education, youth culture, and public policy. His research concentrates on expanding conversations, deepening analysis, and creating traction towards racial and gender equality. His commentary has been featured in many national media outlets such as U.S. World and News Report, Diversity in Higher Education and the Houston Chronicle.

During the luncheon, Lewis asked students, faculty and staff to be vigilant about correcting misinterpretations connected to King’s legacy.

He opened his speech by commenting on King's commitment to social activism and his ability to connect his dreams to reality.

"If we get too caught up in the hype of being individuals ... we will lose King’s legacy of working for others first," said Lewis. "The struggle for justice isn't momentary, it's a constant movement."

He also cautioned students against being limited by their use of technology and stressed the importance of getting an education.

"Education is a passport that gives us access to opportunity," Lewis said, "Fun is important, but only after we have done the work we need to do." 

The next, and possibly most important, topic that Lewis discussed was that despite having a black president, we (Americans) have more college dropouts among African American teenagers, no African-American senators in Congress and a drop in real wages. He said King believed that a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on social programs is approaching spiritual death.

Lewis said both the military and poverty will continue to grow.

"Let's be careful that we don't get lured in by the 'American Dream' as opposed to King's dream," he said. 

Embedded in all of Lewis' discussions was the fact that in order to live up to King's legacy, we need to be active in our community on both the local and global level.

"In the U.S., we tend to think locally, whereas King wanted us to be world citizens," Lewis said. "This is the time to change your vision, your work and your legacy."

Lewis' speech was well received by attendees who were able to relate to his message and impressed by his ability to connect incidents from around the world to Athens.

"His message was clear and simple," said Sarah Williams, a senior studying political science. "I liked how he used visuals we could all relate to in order to prove his point."

Ohio University administrator Tyrone Carr said he enjoyed the presentation.

"I've heard a number of speakers over the years, but the way he broke it down, transcends from the young to the old," Carr said.

For more information about the MLK Jr. celebration, click here