Many of the issues at stake in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s are still relevant today, according to speakers at a celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Jan. 25.
About 200 people attended the event in Loyola’s Galvin Hall in the Sullivan Center. University President Jo Ann Rooney urged attendees to talk to their fellow students and work to better the lives of all people before introducing the keynote speaker, Dr. Marc Lamont Hill.
Formerly a professor at Columbia University and a commentator on Fox News, CNN and MSNBC, Hill now hosts HuffPost Live.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. may be the best person America has ever produced, but we still haven’t come to terms with who and what Dr. King is,” said Hill. “We reduce King to… anything and everything but the revolutionary that he was.”
Hill began his speech by reflecting on the end of former President Barack Obama’s time in office.
“We just left a moment of high optimism: 154 years after emancipation, we had the capacity to produce Barack Obama,” Hill said. “The hands that were down picking cotton now picked the president.”
Hill said that King forced America to come to terms with its fundamental promises, citing Plessy v. Ferguson, a Supreme Court case that allowed for segregated schools, and the Voting Rights Act, which promised to help repair the damage of slavery but “only served to marginalize [the black community] further.”
“I feel like we’re still seeing America not keeping its promises, whether it’s to black people, undocumented people, LGBTQ people, immigrants or any other people,” said Kimani Goheen, a junior English major and African-American studies minor. Goheen, 21, said she felt that “Americans need to accept our history if we want to fix things.”
Hill criticized what he called the “hands off” approach many politicians take in dealing with the issues black people face, saying it “leads to a population being rendered disposable,” exemplified by problems like the ongoing water pollution crisis in Flint, Michigan — a predominately African American community.
“King would have told us to ask different questions,” said Hill. “Instead of talking about an achievement gap, what if we talked about a funding gap or an investment gap? We can continue to find out reasons why people go to prison, or we can find out why people commit crimes.”
Attendee Dante Violette, who graduated from Loyola in 2016 and now studies psychology at the University of Chicago, said that he is worried that the United States is going in the wrong direction.
“I feel like Dr. King wouldn’t recognize this country today,” said Violette, 23. “People need to take what they learn in school and apply it. For me, that meant going to graduate school, to take what I learn and use it somewhere I can make a difference.”
Hill told the audience that the only way to honor King’s memory is to take action.
“For us to follow tradition of King [we must] commit to doing something. It means you must join an organization,” Hill said. “Take your energy, take your work and focus on leaving the world better than you found it. That’s King’s vision.”