Educator talks about equality at MLK Commemorative Program
Understanding the relations that unite us and tearing down the barriers that separate us is crucial to maintaining Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of equality in America. That was the message Ronald L. Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University, told those gathered at Whitley Auditorium Jan. 13 as part of Elon University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program.
The program is part of a series of events on campus this week to honor the life and legacy of the slain civil rights leader, who would have turned 82 on January 15.
During his address, Carter, who has been working with students and universities for more than 30 years, said there was a perfect storm brewing that if left unchecked will lead the country to a shipwreck. To avoid this outcome, he said, Americans need to start thinking institutionally about people of color, that minority that will become the “new majority” by 2050, according to demographic estimates.
Whether the country is ready for it or not, Carter said, children who are part of this new majority will increasingly be part of the country’s pool of politicians, entrepreneurs and scientists. Yet, these children are not being educated in the broad sense of the word. How, he asked, can they be capable of holding up this country when their time comes?
Carter said it’s time for all Americans to come to terms with the inconsistent ways people of color have been given limited access to social justice, educational opportunities, capital, politics and entrepreneurial opportunities. If this is not addressed as a nation, the country is headed for disaster.
“In the coming years, as the United States faces this unprecedented challenge, we need everyone – men, women, black, white, yellow, brown, young, old, gay, straight, Jew, protestant, Catholic, Hindu – everyone to hold up the magnificent vision of this country,” Carter said.
If Americans create a common ground across boundaries, replace disconnected ideas with ideas that are interrelated to a purposeful outcome and engage in scenario planning, then “we will avoid the perfect storm,” Carter said. Only then, he added, will all children be educated, able to remain gainfully employed and contribute to society.
“That is to live with equality,” Carter concluded. “Just think, if we could achieve this… the possibilities are endless.”
As part of Thursday’s program, the winners of Elon University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Essay Contest were also announced. Sponsored by the Multicultural Center, the contest, which is designed to promote King’s vision for a more humane nation, is open to middle and high school students in Alamance County.
Susan Nar, a student at Turrentine Middle School who together with her family came to the United States from Burma three years ago, was the winner in the middle school category. Anna Paige Kirby, a student at River Mill Academy, won first place in the high school category. This is the second time Kirby received top honors in the essay contest. She won the middle school category in 2009.
“Don’t scale down the ceiling of your hopes,” Carter said to both contest winners. “Believe in the ideas of this country and you’ll make a profound difference because of your passions.”
Carter also praised Elon for its efforts to give college access to those who cannot afford it and bring people of diverse background together.
“I’m proud that the first goal in the Elon Commitment plan is an unprecedented commitment to diversity and global engagement,” Elon President Leo M. Lambert said during his welcoming remarks. He pointed at the Elon Academy and the upcoming construction of the multi-faith center. He also said he was proud of the excellence of African-American students at Elon.
While the first African-American student to graduate from Elon did so after King’s death, “we have much progress to celebrate,” Lambert said.