President Samuel A. Kirkpatrick's

Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration

Jan. 21, 2002

 

Good afternoon. Thank you Jamal for those kind words.

It is my distinct pleasure to host this annual luncheon to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King spent his entire lifetime working hard to bring about respect and equality for all: A challenge that is as relevant today as it was during his lifetime.

As I look into this audience, I see a diversity of people - men and women, blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians. People who stood arm in arm with Dr. King...and people who know him only through the pages of history.

I see people whose faces are etched with individual struggles, but whose eyes are bright with hope. It is in that hope, that the dreams of Martin Luther King, Jr. will become reality.

Clearly the times we live in now feel a lot different than the ones from which we just emerged.

The events of this past fall defined for each of us new challenges in how we view the world and those around us. Comfort and convenience have been replaced by a nagging sense of uncertainty and vulnerability.

This is indeed our Martin Luther King, Jr. moment in time.

For as he said on so many occasions, "the measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Amid the rubble of burned churches and with his heart heavy from watching his endangered people, King never wavered in his insistence that nonviolence must remain the central tactic of the civil-rights movement, nor in his faith that everyone in America would some day attain equal justice.

Challenge and controversy....

I have heard the rhetoric of people who say that when the hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon changed forever.

I believe that Dr. King would have said that those acts of terrorism didn't change the rules, but rather, made them more important than ever.

that...we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...

We cannot celebrate King and at the same time standby and witness the erosion of civil liberties of people because of the color of their skin, the clothes they wear, or the God they worship. Such injustice, is a threat to justice everywhere.

The challenge - our challenge - is to debate and discuss without dismissing ideologies that differ from our own. We must, as Dr. King preached, "look beyond the external and discern those inner qualities that make all men human, and therefore, brothers." History provides a great perspective. Japan, Germany and Russia, once our enemies, are now our allies. Coercive tactics have been replaced by cooperative ventures.

In this day and age, when messages can travel around the world through the internet in a matter of seconds, and decisions made thousands of miles away can stagger the world's economy, the challenge of mastering the simple art of living together has taken on greater meaning and urgency.

Dr. King reflected on our interdependency...

"If we are to have peace on earth our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribes, our class and our nation and that means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone and as long as we try we are going to have war in this world. We must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish as fools."

Indeed, from the horror of twisted steel and a wounded world, we are reminded that each of us is caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Or as King put it, "we may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now... The most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?"

Universities have a special obligation in helping society answer that question. As institutions of higher learning, we must provide an arena for open and honest discourse, without fear of reprisal.

We have an obligation to provide opportunities for individual, and collective, public engagement. \par

Through various programs, activities and services we are challenged to broaden our knowledge and understanding of the world around us \endash and our role in it.

And, we have a duty to ensure that every qualified person \endash regardless of race, sex, color, creed, national origin or sexual preference \endash who seeks advancement through education has access to that education.

I am very proud of Eastern Michigan University's commitment to these ideals. . .They are embedded in our institutional mission and central to our core values.

We have worked diligently throughout the years to promote diversity and understanding both on campus and in the community. And we have formally embraced diversity, inclusion, community engagement, and international and multicultural approaches as part of our key strategic directions.

Programs like this week-long series of events honoring Dr. King are key to achieving our goals. Through various intellectual, creative and artistic activities, participants have been challenged to "revisit equality," by examining how King's ideals should be incorporated into our daily lives.

Inherent in the theme \endash as it was in all King's messages \endash is a call for personal responsibility and action. As a University, or a community,

we can only provide the tools. It is up to each individual to forge either a tavern or a tabernacle of their lives.

Each of us has the capacity to make a difference.

€ we can expand our knowledge by studying a new language or culture,

€we can study abroad, or invite international students to study with us,

€we can open our homes to people who are different from us, and accept that difference as a gift from which we can learn.

€we can volunteer to teach someone to learn to read, or help build a house for the homeless,

€we can share our excesses, and be better stewards of the riches we are given.

Each of us has the capacity to make a difference.

We may not have Lincoln's gift of speech, the compassion of Mother Teresa, the spirit of Cesar Chavez, Gandhi's discipline, Mandella's forgiveness or King's vision but as the late Robert F. Kennedy said, although "few will have the greatness to bend history itself; each of us can work to change a small portion of events....And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

I hope you will counted among those who made a difference.