For the United States, last Wednesday marked an important day in the country's history: the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On April 4, 1968, 50 years ago, Dr. King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tenn.
It was an event that rocked the nation; secular communities, Christian communities, black communities, white communities and more saw a hero for humanity killed at the young age of 39. For nearly 10 years, Dr. King had devoted his life to protesting inequality in America, beginning with race. The culmination of his efforts was the passing of the civil rights act banning the segregation and discrimination of any people on the account of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
To commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Palm Beach Atlantic University held an evening service on Wednesday April 4, where Dr. Terriel Byrd, PBA professor of ministry, delivered a lecture connecting one of King's sermons with a chronology of his life. His main point was to encourage students that loving conversations are the way to initiate a change in society.
"Get with someone that’s different – when I say different I simply mean culturally, ethnicity, race," Dr. Byrd said. "Just say, 'Let's go out for a cup of coffee,' and just talk."
For Dr. Byrd and Dr. King alike, communication was an essential element to bring about change in society; however, there is more than just talking. Listening and engaging are just as important.
"We [sh]ould seek to find ways to learn about different cultures," Dr. Byrd said. "I would think different classes, bringing in different speakers, different art forms that would actually help educate people on other cultures."
One way students have attempted to do this is by placing posters of Dr. King's life as an activist on the Baxter Green. Last week, the posters were placed on the green so students could walk around, listen to King's speeches and see a timeline of events leading up to Dr. King's tragic death.
"We are out here trying to bring awareness," Tentia and Floyd said, volunteers who sat by the posters on Wednesday morning. "I don't think [students] know what it's about. We of course had some black kids come by; they know what it is because that is what we are taught. Everyone else is just kind of strolling by."
Why is this the case for PBA? Why is it that more African American students stopped to give a martyr for equality thirty seconds out of their day than white students? This is not an easy question to ask, and it is an even more humbling question to answer.
"One of the challenges we have to overcome is the ability to see Dr. King as an American hero and not just a black hero," Dr. Byrd said. "Part of doing that is to begin talking about the people who were not black who also partnered with King and start telling their stories. This [the posters] was a start, but I think in the future we might want to not only put them out, but also talk about each one."
As Dr. Byrd points out, Dr. King was fighting for the quality of all Americans, and he had white men as some of his most passionate supporters. To more fully understand King's impact, it would be helpful particularly to whites to hear the stories of these men and then discern how they can now be involved in the movement. As Dr. Byrd acknowledges, this will be a process of educating whites, blacks and all Americans about where the country was, where the country is and where it should be.
Nationwide there is still immense poverty and inequality amongst the socioeconomic classes. In principle and in certain practical aspects there has been change, but there is still work to be done. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and even the “Me Too” movement understand this and are active in protesting for change.
"I knew more about the Mr. Charming event than the King posters or chapel service," PBA freshman Maddie McCarty said.
Why does the student body of a Christian University promote and celebrate futile college nights but simply put up posters for one of humanity's greatest heroes? Most students on campus acknowledged the posters for King and the chapel service, but acknowledgment was the climax of their remembrance.
This is the first step to bring true change; the steps addressed by Dr. Byrd are legitimate and necessary. However, these steps will follow a change of heart and understanding from the greater population on the life, work and legacy of Dr. King.