Hopkins physicians Benjamin S. Carson and Levi Watkins Jr. celebrated the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. last Wednesday by noting that progress toward real racial equality was still an unfinished journey.
"We must emulate Martin Luther King and combine passion with activism," said Watkins, associate dean for postdoctoral programs and professor of cardiac surgery in the School of Medicine. Speaking to a filled Turner Auditorium, Watkins addressed his first words to King, "I hope you can look down and see part of your dream fulfilled.
"But," he continued, "I'm worried. Now I see a new ugliness: arrogant, duplicitous, racially conservative forces trying to undermine the progress we have made. With these attacks, you'd think we had reached the mountain top. But we are in retreat, and those hurt will be the least of God's creatures. Where is the outrage?"
He pointed to an array of episodes demonstrating this reversal: the loss of Banneker Scholarships in Maryland; the objection to naming a California school for Martin Luther King Jr. by white parents who feared it would stigmatize their children as black; ballot initiatives or court rulings rolling back affirmative action access to professional schools in California or Texas.
"Even at Johns Hopkins," he said, "who does the sweeping and who are the leaders?"
In his portion of the talk, Carson, director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, asked, "What would Martin Luther King say if he were here today?
"He would be concerned about an endangered species: young black men. There are more of them in jail than in college, their homicide rate is astronomical, and you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure that out."
He blamed at least part of the problem on the lack of attention in history books to achievements by African Americans, coupled with incessant television images of young blacks playing sports or singing rap.
"Even if our ancestors came in different boats," Carson said, "we are all in the same boat now. We all have to be concerned. We all have to move beyond race."