Each January, for more than a quarter-century, the United States has commemorated the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a national holiday, a day that calls on us to pause to reflect, not only on the man himself and his significance in the history of our country but on where we stand, as a society, on the range of issues on which his legacy continues to challenge us.
This year, I was honored to be asked to be the keynote speaker at the 10th Annual Tribute to Dr. King at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels, here in Gary. My remarks were centered, not surprisingly, on the importance that Dr. King assigned to education and I am reminded of a newspaper columnist’s comment back in the 1980s that he wondered what Dr. King would have thought about a national day in his honor when children did not have to go to school!
As Black History Month begins, I would like to share several excerpts from my remarks at the Cathedral last month.
Dr. King, for instance, also spoke often and eloquently on the importance of education, a topic for which I, too, am very passionate, having spent my entire professional career at, mostly, urban universities.
“The function of education,” Dr. King said, “is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
True education is not about memorizing facts, or standardized test performance. It is about inspiring, engaging and empowering students to learn how to be independent learners who can reason, question and act. In fact, Dr. King reminded us that, “Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”
What Dr. King knew in 1947…70 years ago…is still true today and underscored by the recent election year that has been described as “savage in its anger and abject in its fear”. It is up to schools, and institutions of higher learning, to teach students how to think critically. Through that academic process, students, and their families, will recognize the value of education and its transformational and civic power. It is, after all, much harder to distract or mislead a well-educated, critically-minded citizenry.
Dr. King, who entered Morehouse College at the young age of 15, understood the transformative effect that education had on his own life, and he recognized its value for all those with a stake in American society. As an educator, I, too, believe in the power of a college education, because I have witnessed it, firsthand, through the determined efforts of our region’s students, who are committed to their studies, driven by their desire for a better, more enriched and fulfilled life.
For the students of Northwest Indiana, earning a college degree is their way, their opportunity, to connect to their communities, unleash their potential, build their confidence… and truly transform their lives.
[The remarks included profiles of two IU Northwest students, both student athletes, whose stories and accomplishments, in many ways, say a great deal about the students who attend and succeed at our campus. The two students are Symone Hayes and Rashad Richardson, who were in attendance that day.]
These are but two of thousands of similar student stories that fill the halls and classrooms across the Northwest campus. Our students, many who come from this very community, share a common bond and determination to overcome anything that stands between them and their aspirations. They juggle their courses, work and family responsibilities, while also remaining committed to their dreams.
In a world that still shows us many examples of social and economic inequality, education can go a long way toward being an effective equalizer, perhaps, as Lyndon Johnson said, the only equalizer.
Dr. King’s mission of education equality and equity lives on and shines brightly throughout our region, because of students like Symone and Rashad and the thousands of other Northwest Indiana students who are also working hard to earn their college degrees.
As a champion for education, Dr. King believed that education was the “most vital and indispensable element” of the drive for freedom and equality. He was stating a deeply-held belief that was one of the highest priorities for African American communities at the end of slavery. Study after study has shown this to be true. In fact, it is widely agreed that postsecondary education has become one of the most important economic issues of our time.
While King, the scholar, pursued rigorous academic inquiry, King, the minister, pursued his calling to preach, which makes his life’s ministry so distinctive. The power of these two attributes had a historic effect, when the substance of his message and his compelling rhetorical skills fueled the Civil Rights Movement and challenged every American to think hard about a different, better future.
As a man of the church and a student of the academy, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied the complementary principles of faith and knowledge. Faith informed by reason became the cornerstone of his life’s work and the foundation of his dream.
Dr. King observed that: “Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control.”
The importance of education was central to Dr. King’s message and strategies for change. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs is hosting a range of activities in association with Black History Month 2017 (https://apps.iu.edu/ccl-prd/events/view?type=month&pubCalId=GRP12120) and I encourage all members of our campus community to make the time to participate.