The voice of Senator Robert Kennedy echoed through the University of Toledo’s Savage Arena as a silent audience listened to his speech announcing the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to an Indianapolis inner-city community in 1968.
This video was part of Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur’s speech during Monday’s 17th Annual Unity Celebration that marked the 50th Anniversary of King’s assassination.
The University of Toledo, along with Toledo politicians, religious leaders and community members, honored his memory with performances by the United Vision Baptist Church Choir, dancers from Toledo School for the Arts and songs from the upcoming rhythm and blues opera “I Dream.”
The event featured speeches by Toledo community members, Kaptur, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, UT President Sharon Gaber and proclamations recognizing the holiday from Governor John Kasich’s and Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor’s offices.
“Fifty years after his death, and what do we remember about Dr. Martin Luther King?” asked Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz in his speech.
Kapszukiewicz said we should remember that King was an educated young man who believed in reform, and who, at 26 years old, led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and was assassinated at 39 years old.
Before he became a public figure, King skipped two grades, started college at the age of 15, graduated when he was 18 years old with a degree in Divinity and received a Ph.D. at Boston University, Kapszukiewicz said.
“Passing classes is not enough,” Gaber said in her speech. “As Dr. King once said, ‘The goal of true education is intelligence plus character. Having a conscience, doing the right thing, thinking beyond what is only good for yourself.’”
Unity and bringing the community together is important, especially when coupled with an emphasis on education, Gaber said.
To honor this commitment to education and community, 11 students from various colleges and universities were awarded nearly $10,000.
Six students received $1,000 each from the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship – Brianna Becraft, paralegal studies; Tamera Bell-Bey, social work; Miracle Darrington, biology; Michael Griffin, environmental engineering; Christopher Hampton, economics; and Bria Harris, marketing.
Five students also received $500 each from the African-American Leadership Council Scholarship – Chryst’Ann Allen, psychology; Devin Brandon, pharmacy; Dominga Grace, nursing; Charles Perry, criminal justice and paralegal studies; and Randy Thomas, environmental science.
Darrington and Allen are both students at UT.
The theme of this year’s celebration was “Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere: Unifying the Community Voice.”
Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada spoke out against the wealth gap between races and laws that would prevent or make voting difficult for minorities, and she advocated for equal access to higher education and reforming Ohio’s criminal justice system.
“If you think about what is going on nationally, I think the things he said, we can all continue to think about and strive toward increased equality, and that everyone is a human being and to be of this community,” Gaber said.
Kapszukiewicz said King’s life is more relevant now than ever and urged young people to act if they are “upset” with what they are seeing from Washington D.C. or by “a tweet sent out at 3:30 in the morning.”
He described the current political atmosphere and state of country as “feeling divided” and cited the immigration debate as a topic of contention.
“This immigration debate has a real racial component to it, and it’s being stoked at the highest levels of our government,” Kapszukiewicz said in an interview.
Lagwanda Parker and Vicky Simpson, members of the band This Way Out who sang “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder in tribute to King, said that they hope the event and King’s life continue to unite the community and influence the lives of young people.
The featured performance at the event was two songs from the upcoming opera “I Dream,” which depicts the 36 hours before King’s assassination. The opera will be performed by the Toledo Opera in April.
According to James Meena, principal artistic advisor of the Toledo Opera Association, launching “I Dream” is trying to bring the community together.
“This is not just black history, this is American history,” Meena said.