Marc Lamont Hill, associate professor of education and anthropology at Columbia University, delivered a strong and uplifting message at Monday?s 10th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebratory Brunch in the Baker University Center Ballroom.
Hill, a frequent contributor to national TV shows and newspapers, began his speech by stating that despite the United States being mature enough to elect Barack Obama as president, Americans shouldn?t be patting themselves on the back because the democracy has not been fulfilled and the union is not perfect.
?There is still mass suffering, first-class jails and second-class schools, and workers of all skin colors who see the months last longer than their money,? Hill said. ?We have to re-examine the nature of American democracy and society.?
He then shared four principles that he thinks will make the union more perfect and help move the nation forward.
The first principle was the need for Americans to listen more carefully to each other. Hill said King?s legacy is of deep and profound listening. He said it?s easy to listen to people who look, sound and believe like you, but everyone has something to share that you can use.
?Deep and profound listening is an ethical and moral commitment,? Hill said. ?We have to listen to people who are marked as other, less than or insignificant. That?s the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
The second principle was to remember truthfully. Hill said Americans are obsessed with both memories and forgetting.
?If we celebrate Martin Luther King truthfully, we won?t just celebrate a man who came, dreamed and died,? he said. ?If we remember the civil rights struggle, it was not just a time when people, marched, fought, won and laughed. Dr. King was not just celebrated; he died an enemy of the state.?
Hill said the image of King has been sanitized and deodorized to the point that many people are led to believe that everyone loved him and marched with him and nobody hated him. He said this is done because Americans and the media want a perfect narrative to history.
He gave the example of Aug. 28 in history. He said the media will tell you that?s the day King gave his ?I Have a Dream Speech? in 1963 and the day Barack Obama accepted the democratic nomination for president exactly 45 years later. But they don?t mention that it is also the day Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi in 1955.
?Somehow that (Emmett Till death) didn?t make the news story or put on a T-shirt, because it is not a perfect narrative,? Hill said. ?We must fetch our history to appreciate the progress we have made.?
The third principle Hill discussed was the need to discern carefully. ?He (King) was not just a civil rights leader, he was perhaps the greatest political strategist ever produced, he got laws passed,? Hill said.
He said if King was alive he would be asking the government tough questions about the global economy, the IRS, and the World Bank, among others.
?We must ask the tough questions. That?s what it means to discern wisely,? Hill said.
The final principle Hill shared was the need for all Americans to act bravely. He said there is nothing more courageous than being non-violent and we need to speak the powerful truth to people in power.
?King was never animated by mindless optimism, but he was animated by relentless hope,? Hill said. ?It?s easier to believe in optimism because we can step back and think everything is going to be alright. Hope is to believe that despite the odds, we can overcome.?
Hill said the legacy of King is to continue to push and fight for a world that we might not see because it?s the right thing to do and we should be filled with hope and never scale down our dreams.
Hill said we should never be prisoners of our events or circumstances because of 10 words.
"I do not have to be what I once was," he said. ?We all have a mission, commitment and vision in front of us and despite the odds, if we continue to hope, fight and serve, we can finally fulfill the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
The MLK Day brunch was preceded by a silent march from Galbreath Chapel to Baker University Center and followed by ?It Takes a Village,? an interactive workshop for school children of all ages. The workshop, which was led by Ohio University students, taught children to accept the differences in people.
Monday?s events were part of the university?s first five-day celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was coordinated by the university?s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and the Office for Diversity, Access and Equity.
Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges said the celebration went well and many events were well attended. ?Next year we will make a few adjustments and build on this year?s success,? he said.