An address given by President Mark Gearan honoring Martin Luther King Jr. was featured in the Jan. 18 issue of the Finger Lakes Times. In the address given at the Presbyterian Church, President Gearan describes how the day became a national holiday more than two decades ago. Chevanne DeVaney, assistant director of intercultural affairs, and Donna Davenport, professor of dance, were also quoted in the article.
“It was the first holiday that had been created since 1948,” Gearan said, stressing that recently deceased Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm began pushing for the holiday in the early 1980s. Then President Ronald Reagan signed the day into law in 1983.
The article written by Sujata Gupta continues to say:
The holiday became a national day of service under the Clinton administration, added Gearan, who served in that administration.
“The King family and others have urged us to save this as a day on, not a day off,” Gearan said.
In keeping with that motto, Gearan noted that several HWS students have been raising money for Save the Children, to help victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami that swept across southern Asia.
Citing statistics and figures, Gearan also emphasized that Americans have yet to achieve true racial equality.
“The work that Dr. King talked about is far from over,” Gearan said. “The unemployment rate for black Americans is double the rate for white Americans. The percentage of black Americans living in poverty is climbing every year … .”
Gearan stressed the need to keep King's message current with the passage of time, noting that many of the Colleges' incoming freshman this fall were born nearly 20 years after King died.
“It may seem like an ancient time to some,” said Gearan, who thinks all students should read not only King's famous “I Have A Dream” speech, but also his less widely known “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”
That letter, Gearan said, “will make sure that we don't give our children a sanitized view of the civil rights movement.”
Finally, Gearan described how he finds meaning in King's message despite his status as a white American.
“Martin Luther King redeemed the dream of the United States,” Gearan said, noting that the civil rights leader gave Americans a sense of “moral purpose.”
That moral purpose continues into today, said Gearan, who stressed that all Genevans should strive to turn the city into “a model of fairness.”
We should be able to say, Gearan concluded “that we don't just deal with diversity but that we take pride in it.”
Following Gearan's speech, Rosa Blue presented several community members with plaques.
Karen Baer, executive director of the city's Commission on Human Rights won the community service award for her dedication and commitment. Charles Kenney and Lucile Mallard won heritage awards, which are given in memory of MLK Committee founding members.
As part of this week's Martin Luther King Day celebration, Rochester Mayor William Johnson will speak Wednesday at the Colleges. His talk, titled “Why We Celebrate Martin Luther King Day,” will be at 4:30 p.m. in the Geneva Room of the HWS Warren Hunting Smith Library. The public is welcome.
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