Today, we pause to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As we resolve to follow Dr. King’s example and exceed his expectations, I imagine I am not the only person wondering what he would say about our nation and world right now were he still here to lead us.
The tsunami of 2020 brought hurt, loss and ruin. It exposed deeply embedded, systemic failures and unrelenting pain. Decades ago, Dr. King urged us to face this, fix it and heal. We haven’t. As the 2020 tidal wave recedes, we see these lasting cracks in our bedrock—deep inequities in health care, the legacy of racial injustice in law enforcement and policing and a dangerous erosion of integrity, reason and truth in our republic. The heinous, violent attack on our U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is the latest evidence of an infection and atrophy every bit as threatening as COVID-19.
What hope would Dr. King offer after a hard year and in a divisive time that, for many, often feels hopeless? He might point to the young leaders in our midst, including the Oshkosh K-12 students selected as the winners of the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King essay contest UWO’s Division of Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence helped recognize last winter. The pandemic shouldn’t overshadow their remarkable wisdom.
“The hate that fills the world we live in is so prevalent, but there are so many people that try to love and persevere through the hard times that I believe that one day my nephews will never have to go through the segregation my grandmother went through, the stereotypes society blanket me with, or deal with the racism we as African Americans and people of color suffer through in our daily lives,” wrote then-11th grade student Deja Amari Thompson.
Sequoia Eckstein, an 8th grade student at the time, wrote: “My generation is the generation of change and if we stay silent, where are we going to carry hope? Hope is in every person’s heart, but every person just has to be brave enough to find it and use it – just like Martin Luther King and the ‘Oshkosh 94.’”
“(Dr. King) led peaceful protests, sit-ins and marches to change the law,” wrote then-4th grade student Eavie Heffernan. “I admire him because he wanted something, so he went and did it. He got arrested, jailed, and his house got bombed, but he still worked hard to achieve his dream.”
UWO will help recognize a new group of essay winners during our Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration and Awards Program at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 17. A limited number of people will be part of this Black History Month event at Reeve Memorial Union Ballroom. It will be available virtually on Zoom. Coordinators will share more details and links as that date approaches. I look forward to it.
And I look forward to taking other steps with you in this hopeful and healing 2021. I know we have the commitment and the futuristic leaders in our community to help bridge chasms, restore reason and build the more just, peaceful and equitable society Dr. King dreamed of. Our work continues.
This post was originally shared via email to UWO students, faculty and staff on Jan. 18, 2021.