by Maeve Callahan – Staff Writer – email@example.com
While America paused Jan. 21 to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., UNC Asheville celebrated with an entire week of events honoring the life of King.
“All the efforts and energy would be in vain if we do not continue Dr. King’s legacy of leadership and service,” said Gwendolyn Boyd, the keynote speaker for UNCA’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week.
On Jan. 21, America celebrated the life and legacy of King, who is recognized by The King Center as the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name. King took inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching of nonviolence, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People website, and relied on techniques of civil disobedience in his fight for equality.
King participated in the Montgomery, Ala., Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end racial segregation on transportation. Additionally, King delivered his famous “I have a dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, a speech that earned King the title of the youngest man in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Nobel Prize website.
UNCA devoted an entire week to celebrating the life of King. The events included a prayer breakfast, a day of service, the live variety show “The Parchment Hour,” keynote speaker Boyd, a viewing of the film “Waiting for Superman” and a shuttle to Western Carolina University to see Savion Glover.
Last Wednesday, Boyd, the first African-American woman to receive a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Yale University, spoke to her audience about King’s dream.
“We have to refuel the vision. We have to reignite the dream, re-pool our resources and reinvigorate our passion for freedom and justice,” she said.
Boyd talked about America’s current state of race relations, with attention to the areas she thought needed change. She spoke about King’s vision of a colorblind society and admitted to feeling America had yet to realize his dream.
“If we are honest with ourselves, too many of us have lost our will to stand because we’ve lost our voices as we face our enemies everyday,” she said. “The fact is we still don’t live in that colorblind society that Dr. King talked about.”
Boyd did not allow America’s failure to achieve the ultimate goal of equality for all to discourage her. She passionately encouraged her listeners to press forward in the movement and to continue to fight for equality.
“So tonight, my friends, I come to remind us that this is no time for business as usual,” she said. “This is the time for unusual people with unusual commitments to solve unusually difficult problems.”
The King Center website describes King as a man who achieved more progress toward racial equality during his 13 years of participation in the Civil Rights Movement than any other person in the previous 350 years.
Boyd addressed what she considered to be oppressive areas in society that need to be challenged, such as the prison system and education.
“Our prison system is a good example of the racial disparities in our country because its majority of ethnic minorities,” said Helen O’Donnell, senior literature student at UNCA.
In 2010, African-Americans accounted for 14 percent of the population of the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that same year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported African-Americans represented 28 percent of all arrests made.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education found black men acquired only 10 percent of the bachelor’s degrees received in 2010.
According to the UNCA fact book, African-Americans represent only 3 percent of the student population as of fall 2011.
“I think oppression definitely still exists today,” said Kimber Fowler, junior new media student at UNCA. “And in terms of the action we are taking to change it, it’s very little or maybe even none at all.”
Fowler discussed the oppression African-Americans still face, touching mostly on job opportunities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 Americans suffered from a national unemployment rate of nearly 9 percent, however African-Americans faced an unemployment rate of 16 percent.
“Now is not the time for us to become amnesia victims and think that we got here by ourselves. Or to be so naïve to think that the world is perfect and we don’t have anything else to do,” Boyd said.