By Chase Rheam
STILLWATER, Okla. —
A group of Stillwater residents, local church representatives and Mayor John Bartley began their walk from Stillwater Public Library to Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church to celebrate the life and vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday evening.
Langston University professor Zola Drain introduced the evening’s guest speaker, Langston University President Kent Smith, Jr.
Smith, a husband and father of four, started his speech with a prayer before discussing King’s legacy.
“Not only was Dr. King an American icon, he was a world hero,” Smith said. “And so often, we as Americans, we tend to focus on the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and certainly this new generation of student tends to only know the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech rather than the majority of what Dr. Martin Luther King really stood for.”
Smith said King focused on equality.
“I’m struck that just 50 or 60 years ago, as I look around the room tonight, we couldn’t have sat in the same room,” he said. “Many times we couldn’t even pretend that we cared about one another. We certainly couldn’t have gone to the same restrooms in the back. We wouldn’t have walked together in the walk you participated together in this evening.”
Smith spoke about what King would think of society if he were still alive.
“I frankly believe that Dr. King would be somewhat disappointed if he were here today if he saw some of the things happening in our community,” he said. “If he were alive today, he would see that a civil rights movement has become mired in the trappings of the past and is unwilling to change. He would see that many of our young people don’t even know its history. Many of our young people have no clue what people really fought and died for, for the very rights that they have today.”
Smith said three things, including family and faith, must be focused on to keep King’s dream from fading into history.
“If we truly have faith, we know that everything is going to be OK,” he said. “Now, it’s easy to have faith when everything is going good and sometimes the man upstairs has to send us trials and tribulations to let us know that you’re really not in control. But, if we get back to the faith, I think we would find that a lot more in our society would go better than it is today.”
The final issue is education, he said.
“We’ve become a society where a lot of places, the first thing we’re cutting is education,” Smith said. “What a travesty. What are we thinking? An uneducated society will make uneducated decisions. Education has got to be a higher priority for us as a society.”
Smith wrapped up his speech with a challenge.
“As I leave you, my challenge to you is to reach one and teach one so that we all can become truly one,” he said.