January 18, 2016
If you were in elementary school in the 1960s like I was, you probably were aware of big changes happening in our country, even if you were too young to understand them.
Back then, most adults watched the national nightly news. As kids, my brothers and I had no interest in that, but we picked up enough to know something big was afoot.
I grew up in a typical Texas oil field town with a population of less than 3,000 … and less than 10% of that population was Black.
The school system was one of the highest rated in the state because the tax revenue from the oil companies allowed the school board to hire the very best teachers.
In spite of that wealth and the reputation for excellence, Crane in the early 1960s, was a segregated school district.
I remember what a big deal it was to some of the adults when our schools became integrated in 1965. They were concerned about how … or if… it would work.
But here’s the interesting part, and what Dr. King’s dream was really all about. The boys in our town, of all races, played baseball together. We all knew, liked and respected each other. We didn’t understand why integrated schools were such a big deal.
You see, we were all just young boys who liked baseball. We had no clear understanding of why we attended different schools.
So when the schools were integrated, it made sense to us.
Fortunately, it made sense to a lot of people. Thanks to Dr. King’s vision of civil rights for all, our country turned a corner toward greater equality during those years.
For Dr. King and those who labored alongside him, I’m sure at times, the challenges seemed insurmountable.
But they persevered and created a better world for their children and grandchildren. A world that moved us toward the unity Dr. King dreamed of.
The struggle continues, however, on several fronts today. That’s why we must continue to speak out when we see injustice. We must continue to speak out when we believe civil rights have been violated. And we must continue to seek equality for all.
Dr. King once said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That was true 50 years ago and it’s still true today.
We sometimes forget how young Dr. King was when he led our country’s civil rights movement through the turbulent 1960s. He’s been gone longer than he was here, but his legacy is undeniable.
Can you imagine how different our country might be if his life had not been cut short? How he could have continued to lead the nation in conquering social injustice? How the whole world might have been different if his vision had spread to other countries?
As we look at the continued human rights violations in our country and around the world, I’m reminded of something he wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail. Dr. King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
He was wise beyond his years. His vision of a unified front to defeat injustice wherever it’s encountered is just as important today.
There’s one more area of his civil rights work I must mention. I can’t speak about Dr. King and civil rights without mentioning education and the role community colleges play.
Dr. King understood that education is a key component in empowering people and improving communities.
Our nation’s community colleges were founded on the concept of social justice and providing all Americans, particularly those economically and socially disadvantaged, an affordable and accessible education. That’s our mission at KCTCS, and it’s one we take very seriously.
Throughout all of his struggles, Dr. King remained optimistic about the future. I, too, am optimistic when I think about the educational opportunities people have because of the civil rights movement.
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts today. I’m honored and humbled to speak about Dr. King and his dream of unity. He left behind a legacy of hope and inspiration.
And it’s up to us to carry on his work and to see that his dreams continue to become a reality.