Martin Luther King Jr.’s message still offers timely lessons more than four decades after his death, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., told a gathering Sunday on the Kansas University campus.
“Dr. King has a message that is timeless and speaks to this generation and generations that will come later,” Cleaver said. “Because he talked about issues that will never vanish from humankind: justice, peace, love, responsibility and non-violence.”
Cleaver, the first African-American mayor of Kansas City, Mo., delivered the keynote speech at the 2010 MLK Banquet, sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs at KU. Discussing King’s lasting impact on the United States, Cleaver referenced examples of injustice throughout American history and called on today’s college students to take stands on contemporary issues.
Cleaver, who is serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, cited America’s involvement in international conflicts, the national health care crisis and the world’s environmental problems as examples of issues he said young people should try to solve using King’s principles.
“This generation is going to have to say, ‘These are the things we’re going to fight for,’” Cleaver said. “I want this generation not to be passive and submissive in the face of major national and international challenges.”
Cleaver told the crowd the work of King and other civil rights leaders helped pave the way for President Barack Obama to take office, but said that America’s work on racial issues was far from over. He cited polls that illustrated the differences between the way white and black Americans viewed modern race relations. He said Americans should not use the election of Obama to justify feeling complacent.
“When there are very conspicuous and obvious acts of bigotry, African-Americans are feeling frustrated because the response is, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, there’s no reason for you to be upset about anything, we have a black person in the White House,’” Cleaver said. “So it’s a two-edged sword.”
State Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, and KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little also spoke at the banquet. Gray-Little, KU’s first African-American chancellor, reinforced Cleaver’s message that more work must be done.
Said Gray-Little: “In spite of the many things Dr. King accomplished and the many things that have taken place in the years since he died, there are many things we still need to accomplish.”