EDWARDSVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sentiments and words of “struggle” to affect positive, moral change are truer today than ever before, agreed several speakers at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s 38th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Tuesday hosted by SIUE’s Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI).
About 100 people participated in the celebration via Zoom and Facebook Live. It featured Timothy E. Lewis, PhD, assistant professor in the SIUE College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Political Science, as the guest speaker, with Southern Illinois University (SIU) System President Dan Mahony, PhD, providing the welcome.
“When I grew up, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of my heroes,” said Mahony. “His life was more than service. He was a fighter, first and foremost. He fought for change. He fought against discrimination. He fought to make this country more equitable for all.”
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle,” said SIUE Student Government President Maddie Walters, quoting the words of King and the celebration’s theme. “Dr. King’s words remind us that we must recognize that struggles come first. It is this idea that we will reflect upon today.”
A 1966 Gallup poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Dr. King,” Lewis noted.
“They did not like him, because he used his words, mixing poetry, theology and political philosophy to expose the truth of America,” Lewis said. “What is the truth of America? It is a paradox, because the truth is that America is a nation built on lies.”
“The Founding Fathers were not moral people seeking to build an equal and just society,” Lewis said. “They were racist, sexist men with fragile egos who replicated the same oppression they experienced in Britain.
“America’s traditions are lies,” he said. “Our grade school curriculum teaches that the holiday of Thanksgiving is to commemorate the welcoming of Pilgrims by Native Americans, when in fact Native Americans were murdered, raped and infected with so many diseases they would have agreed to any treaty to get rid of the Pilgrims.
“America’s laundry list of falsehoods manifested most recently with the lies of President Trump concerning election fraud,” he said. “That untruth led to a white supremacist insurrection at the Capitol, which in turn exposed the lie of equal treatment in policing.”
A time of critical reflection was held after the keynote address for participants to reflect on Lewis’ address, refocus on the life and work of King, and re-examine what their legacies will be in these current times.
“I think we need the call to action that Dr. Lewis offers,” said CSDI Director Lindy Wagner. “I am hopeful that there are enough people on the SIUE campus who want to see change that it is possible here. I also think our national climate has been extraordinarily polarizing for years, and it is imperative that we look at one another and choose to humanize the ‘other’ instead of dehumanizing them.”
The CSDI will hold part two of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration when it presents its awards ceremony at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29. To register, visit http://tiny.cc/MLKAwards. For more information, contact the CSDI at 618-650-3180 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.