Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Palm Beach Atlantic University students found a special way to reflect upon Dr. King's life and achievements during the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. A commemorative ceremony was held the night of April 4 in the Desantis Family Chapel where students were treated to a performance by the PBA gospel choir, poetry from students and administration and a provocative lecture from Dr. Terrell Byrd, PBA professor of ministry.
Students waited outside the chapel anxiously, some eager for a chapel credit, and others drawn in by their own passion towards the issue. There was a diverse group of students, faculty and administration that attended ranging in ages, races and backgrounds.
The theme for the evening was more than just remembering King and his achievements for racial equality; rather there was a powerful emphasis on King's desire for human equality. The music, speakers, videos and questions following Dr. Byrd's lecture had a theme of genuine love.
The ceremony began with a poem that coined the phrase, "I would not stop there." The woman who relayed the poem delivered a message convicting the audience to not be content with where the race issue is.
Following a video of PBA student's opinions on "how to reach the mountaintop," a student performed a poem he wrote on the mountaintop and the promise land, words used in King's famous Mountaintop Speech. He left the audience with the statement, "I hope we aren't living in the promised land, because I am a man."
Both these poems pointed back to a central premise of the evening: there is still work to be done and loving communication is a solution to the issue of racial reconciliation. Dr. Byrd followed these two poems with a powerful lecture connecting the events of Dr. King's life with his message on racial reconciliation. He mainly focused on King's 1959 sermon, "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life" and made practical applications to King's life and the life of the PBA community.
"Fifty years is not too long ago," Dr. Byrd said. "Have we really gone the distance we should?"
He left the audience with this thought as a call to action and critical evaluation of oneself. Following a brief period of question/answer, many students abruptly went on their way and snatched up another chapel credit; others personally greeted and thanked Dr. Byrd and the others involved with the evening event. Interestingly, out of six questioners four were African American students and two were white students.
"I think one of the challenges that we have to overcome is the ability to see Dr. King as 'American hero' and not just a 'Black hero,’" Dr. Byrd said. "This was a start," he said, but he also acknowledged that it is a learning process for both whites and blacks.
The next step for PBA is to recognize the issue, remember where society was, acknowledge where society is and not stop there. As a community, PBA must continue to have conversations in love and recognize Dr. King was an activist for human rights.