The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program “I Have a Dream” was presented virtually Thursday afternoon by Monroe County Community College.
The hour-long event was to be hosted by the Rev. Manuel Mendez, but he was ill.
Instead, the full, 16-minute version of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was played and then discussed by the attendees. Participating were about 25 people, including students in two MCCC classes.
The speech, which was delivered before a vast crowd in August, 1963, gave some context into Dr. King’s fight.
Issues of 1963, Dr. King said, included police brutality, segregation and discrimination in voting. Signs still hung that excluded Black people from schools and restaurants.
“Somehow this situation can and will change,” Dr. King said.
He called the Emancipation Proclamation “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation and a great beacon of hope for millions of Negro slaves.”
But, Dr. King said, 100 years later, African Americans still were not free.
“The life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by segregation,” he said. “The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence was the signing of a promise, a promise that all men would be guaranteed the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America has defaulted on this promise. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America gave the Negro people a bad check.”
Dr. King was hopeful that this would change.
“I refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood,” Dr. King said.
After the video, Dr. Kojo Quartey, president of MCCC, asked attendees, “How far have we come? Has Dr. King’s dream been achieved?”
“The last couple years, especially, we’ve not made much progress,” attendee Dr. Gerald McCarty said. “We’ve actually taken a step back. My personal feeling is there’s a long way to go. We have to constantly fight against racism and fight for what’s right.”
Dr. Quartey and attendee Christina Payne agreed.
“We still have a long way to go. And how do we get there? If we all don’t get involved in this process of moving forward and taking our mission from where it is to where it needs to be, we’ll never get there. These perennial problems will always be there,” Dr. Quartey said.
Dr. Peter Coomar, dean of the Applied Sciences and Engineering Technology division at MCCC, said he came to the U.S. 33 years ago from India. He believes the U.S. is more tolerant of differences than some other countries.
“Some are doomed to the caste system. Some Muslims, if you live in a certain community, you can’t vote,” Dr. Coomar said. “I think the U.S. is still a beacon of hope. I sincerely believe people in this country are intrinsically good people. I personally feel that in their hearts they want to do good. There is inspiration to be had from the effort people are making.”
Demaris Sargent said he first heard Dr. King’s speech as a child, and it had a big impact on him.
“I was the only Black student in my class. (Others said) you’re not going to go to college. Now, I’m working on a doctorate. A big influence was this speech,” Sargent said.
What can be done to help end racism?
Lori Jo Couch, who teaches an African American literature course at MCCC, said one way is getting to know people individually.
“Don’t see people as blocks of people based on color, age, ethnicity, religion. When you get to know people one-on-one, that (racism) disappears,” Couch said.
Dr. Quartey agreed.
“As you get to know people, you’re more likely to get rid of some of those biases you have,” he said.
Florence Buchanan, an MCCC trustee, spoke about systemic racism, or racism that is ingrained into a society and its operations.
Buchanan also is the chairperson of CREED (Monroe County Coalition for Racial Equality, Equity and Diversity), which meets regularly in Monroe.
“Your thinking can’t be anything else but (racist) unless you’re so enlightened you see it’s racism. Look at yourself and change,” she said.
“That’s why we have CREED,” Dr. Quartey said. “We need to have more conversations. We know (racism) is an issue. We know it’s a problem. You’ve got to talk about these issues. You can’t just sweep them under the rug.”
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