For Yolanda King, the lynching, beatings, bombings,
cross-burnings and daily life implications of racism and
segregation are all too vivid for her to forget the struggle for
racial equality in America. King, the eldest daughter of the Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr., spoke last Tuesday night at Shriver
Auditorium, reminding people not to forget the struggles and to
keep reaching for her father's dream.
"We must remember history," she said. "So that we do not let it repeat itself. So that we can live together in peace instead of dying together as ignorant fools."
King's appearance at the 5th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation was part of the Black History Month celebration organized by the Hopkins Black Students Union and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The theme, "Beating the Drums: From Africa to America," has been focused on piecing together the remnants of history to build a new legacy for African American children of the future. That theme continued when King spoke about her father's dream.
Born in Montgomery, Ala., two weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus--an act that many say triggered the civil rights movement--Yolanda King has been in the midst of the struggle for human rights all her life. She has participated in numerous civil and human rights demonstrations and has spoken before countless religious, educational, civic and human rights groups.
King earned a bachelor's degree from Smith College and later attended New York University, where she earned a master of fine arts degree in theater. Leading a successful career in the theater and in the classroom, King teaches her students about the art of acting and the multicultural aspects within it. She combines her involvement in working for social change with her artistic pursuits as an actress.
"While it is imperative to actively challenge the forces that deny human beings their right to a decent life, one must also stimulate and alter the hearts and minds of both the privileged as well as those who have been too long denied," she said. "Within the arts lies this power."
Many people came to the talk anxious to get something out of her speech. One woman said, "When I hear the name Martin Luther King I think of courage, strength and persistence. When I see his children I am reminded of him. So I came tonight to be reminded of him and to reminisce."
Other people wanted to become more educated about Martin Luther King and what he represented not only for African Americans but for all Americans.
Nabil Morcos, a student from Egypt, said that Martin Luther King exemplified the regeneration of Christianity. "He used morals and ethics to change society and the human race," he said.
King's talk was accompanied by song and praise from the university's gospel choir, and testimonies from various social organizations on the meaning of heritage in their own lives.
King was well aware that people question the significance of celebrating Black History Month. And she even wondered why it was given the shortest month of the year.
"The stories of our history, the understanding of who we are, what we have contributed to America, to the world, should not simply be a once a year observance," she said. "But the knowledge of who we are should be an ongoing observance." King explained that February allows African Americans to know their history, their story, and it allows other Americans to know the story as well.
Malcolm X once said that "a people cannot know where they are going until they know where they have come from." King expanded upon this point, emphasizing that we must know American history in its most quintessential form, meaning, she said, that we must know the African American story.
"We must know the story of African Americans and we must know all of it: the tragedies, the triumphs, the mistakes, the successes, all of it. It is imperative for all people to know our story. Once we know the story of African Americans, perhaps we can move together toward a more positive, a more honest future," she said.
Recognizing the dreams of pioneers such as activist Harriet Tubman, and poet Langston Hughes, King also reflected upon her own father's dream, a dream to eradicate poverty, violence, racism, oppression and exploitation so that freedom could be attained for all.
"Is this dream impossible?" she asked, posing the question to the audience and responding that, with the same hard work, persistence and leadership Dr. King so greatly exemplified, that dream can be obtained.
"We must face the challenge," she said. "We must be ready, welcoming and willing to respect and include the voices of all our fellow citizens in every aspect of American life."
King knows that some people think her father's dream--the dream that she is still keeping alive--seems idealistic and unobtainable. "I am a 100 percent diehard, card-carrying believer in The Dream, and you have to be too," she said. "I am a child of The Dream. I believe in making dreams a reality."
She stressed the importance of adopting multicultural attitudes and perspectives. "We, black, brown, white, yellow, red, Jews, Catholics and Protestants, Muslims and Hindus, are a family unduly separated in ideals, cultures and interests. Although we live apart we must learn to live together in peace."
Her main message for Johns Hopkins was focused on this same point.
"Any institution that considers itself a really good institution must be inclusive in their academic curriculum. They must study non-Western cultures and people. In the future, the people and the institutions that will be the most successful will be those who have mastered this art," she said.
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