Beyond the dream
In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to a crowd in the University of Dayton Fieldhouse about the state of race relations in America, his commitment to nonviolence and the power of unconditional love. King's response to the question of how far the nation has come in race relations rings as true today as more than half a century ago.
“On the one hand I must affirm that we have come a long, long way in the struggle to make civil rights a reality for all of God’s children. But on the other hand, I must say that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved,” said Lawrence Burnley, vice president for diversity and inclusion, repeating the civil rights leader's words in an eloquent keynote address at today's annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast.
"I am deeply concerned that we are swiftly moving once again from a period of racial and other forms of social justice progress to a period characterized by the progression of policies and practices concerned only with the protection and reproduction of massive material wealth, power and privilege for the few at the expense of the many," Burnley told the capacity crowd in the Kennedy Union ballroom, offering numerous examples throughout history where progress in race relations has taken a step backwards. "Early signs seem to indicate that we are about to enter into a period of our nation’s history unlike anything we’ve seen for decades."
Burnley, an ordained minister who has served as the chief diversity officer at two other higher education institutions and taught African-American history, challenged students, faculty and staff to study King's life and legacy and continue "forward movement for the cause of justice."
Too many people remember King as "a dreamer and visionary," rather than "a doer, a mover, a man of action," Burnley observed. "The power of remembering and honoring this man is in our understanding of what Dr. King was willing to give in order to make his dream and vision a reality," he said. "Driven by the power of love, he was willing to challenge every policy, tradition, practice, assumption, habit, law or piece of legislation that functioned to deny the dignity of every human being."
University of Dayton President Eric Spina set the stage for Burnley's talk with personal reflections. "Some might ask why is it so important for us as a nation and as a university community to pause and honor this singular man?" he said.
"For one, young people didn’t live through the turmoil, the injustice, and the pain of the civil rights era and only know Rev. King through the lens of history books and yearly commemorations. Other people have forgotten the gross inequities and blatant discrimination that stained the fabric of our country in the 1950s and ‘60s. Still others don’t want to hear that injustice even as it echoes today."
When Spina walks by the Martin Luther King memorial on the lawn outside Albert Emanuel Hall, he said he hears "the echo of Dr. King’s words: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'
"That memorial is a visible reminder of our commitment to social justice," he said. "It’s a powerful reminder of our challenge: to bring people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives together in community to work for justice for all."