Each Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day I take time to reflect. I am taken back to my teenage years when I was living here in Rochester, N.Y. and read a story that profoundly affected me even as a teenager. A family bought a house about a mile from where we lived and when the neighbors learned that the family was black they tried to buy the house instead. The black family eventually prevailed but the story angered me and so I joined a group known as CORE, the Congress on Racial Equality.
In the summer of 1963, I learned about a planned demonstration in Washington in support of the civil rights movement and that CORE would be sending busloads of marchers. I decided to travel with the group to the rally. On Aug. 28 we stood at the base of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and heard Dr. King deliver his now famous “I Have a Dream” speech.We heard him dream that his “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
We have traveled a long way since that day when the crowd of 250,000 people joined hands, singing songs from the civil rights movement. Indeed, 45 years later, we inaugurated a president who is making King’s dream a reality. To be sure, however, we have more work to do in order to create King’s “beloved community,” one in which people recognize their interdependence and treat each other with respect and concern. Daily, we are reminded of the need for additional work when we see instances around the country and world where ethnic, racial, religious, and economic differences seem to tear us apart.
Colleges have an important role to play in this regard. We are preparing the future leaders, and they are the hope for the necessary, continued changes. We at the schools have the responsibility to help our students develop into leaders who have the skills and understandings to foster the kind of interdependence that King preached. It is my hope that our students will learn to see strength in the differences around them, and find ways to bridge those differences as they develop local and global communities that appreciate our connected humanity.