Speakers extolled the necessity of keeping the dream of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. alive during activities held Jan. 21 -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- on the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith campus.
UAFS and the local Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Planning Committee sponsored a breakfast, educational sessions and a march in celebration of the life of King, a 1964 Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement, a movement aimed at nonviolence and equality.
Dr. Paul B. Beran, UAFS chancellor, reminded those attending the breakfast that King sought to create common ground where people from all walks of life join together to resolve issues, strengthen communities, reduce poverty and acknowledge dignity and respect for all.
“He had a dream,” said Beran. “You know his ‘I have a dream’ speech. We all share in that dream by being here this morning. It’s important to keep his dream, our dream alive.”
Beran also said it was equally important to keep the dream alive through educating succeeding generations of the injustices Dr. King fought and encouraged the audience to attend educational sessions slated during the observance event.
Topics offered through the sessions included “MLK’s Philosophy on Conformity,” by Dr. Steven Kite, associate professor of history at UAFS; “Fort Smith Public History: Connecting with Martin Luther King Jr.,” by Dr. J. Michael Crane, UAFS assistant professor of history; “Freedom Riders and Personal Perspective on Civil Rights,” by Euba Harris-Winton, who served as executive director of the Mallalieu Community Development Center for 20 years and has been active on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Committee; and “Sitting at the Table of Brotherhood: The Slavery Question and the Drennen-Scott House,” by Tom Wing, UAFS assistant professor and director of the Drennen-Scott Historic Site.
Following the march to the center of campus and the bell tower, Beran charged those attending to keep King’s dream alive all year, not just on the annual federal holiday.
“The progress in civil rights realized the past 50 years can be quickly lost through apathy and ignorance,” he said, adding that this is not the time to ration education and opportunity.
“Dr. King’s dream, our dream, will wither if our resolve begins and ends with a symbolic march once a year,” Beran said. “Getting together once a year on MLK Day will not preserve the dream -- only constant vigilance through providing education and opportunity will make Dr. King’s dream, our dream continue to grow. Education remains the key to growing compassion and humanness.”
Other participants in the day’s program included Karen James, chair of the MLK Holiday Planning Committee; Dr. Leroy Cox, an associate professor and department head for the UAFS Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership programs, as well as a member of the MLK committee; Rev. U.C. Washington, pastor of Mission United Methodist Church; Rev. Ronald Forte, a minister at St. James Missionary Baptist Church; vocalist Alisha Reese, a member of the choir at St. James; a jazz combo from Northside High School, color guard from Northside’s Jr. ROTC; a UAFS drum line, led by UAFS percussion instructor Josh Knight; and Dr. Stephen Husarik, who manned the bells in the UAFS bell tower, starting the march with 27 tolls in observance of the years that the MLK committee has existed, played during the march, and concluded the celebration with a bell peal.
The American Democracy Project, a national initiative designed to foster responsible citizenship at all levels, was also represented at the event and conducted a voter registration drive in the Campus Center. Dr. Amy Jordan of Fort Smith is chair of the ADP at UAFS. The ADP and the MLK Holiday Planning Committee are sponsoring another MLK event, scheduled for Jan. 22. A panel of community leaders will discuss King’s contributions to a changing society under the theme of “Unsung Heroes -- Fifty Years of ‘I Have a Dream,’” followed by awards to a group of students at UAFS who are considered unsung heroes. This program will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. Jan. 22 in the Reynolds Room of the Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center.