Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 20, 2014

Speaker: Keep King's message, work relevant


GOSHEN — And tribute was paid, again.

The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Study Day at Goshen College took place Monday,  on the holiday bearing the slain civil rights leader’s name. Tony Brown, a GC alum, a singer and a professor at Hesston College in Kansas, spoke during the morning convocation at the College Mennonite Church. Brown talked about contemporizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s ideals and goals and the changes in diversity from his time at the college to now.

“I think I was trying to say that this work of diversity is sacred work and that the core of this work is motivated by our faith,” Brown said afterword of his presentation, “and I was also trying to say that we’ve gone through a lot of changes in this country, especially demographically, and that’s bringing new challenges but that we have to meet those challenges and think of them as exciting opportunities to expand our own experiences.”

Brown said there are many issues facing society as a whole - racism, wealth inequality, environmental issues and immigration, among many others.

“I don’t think there is one issue, I think that there are many issues that are at work in our country,” he said. “We have real challenges in our country and somehow we have to come together to find a way to solve them.”

In his speech, Brown included the issues and struggles of other groups as well.

“We must also include women and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community who are also a part of our diversity and find room for these voices to enrich and expand our understanding of the human experience,” Brown said. “Yes, diversity for the 21st century includes and goes beyond race.”

Brown used quotes in his presentation from political activists including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President John F. Kennedy, among others. Brown also talked about issues in higher education and how diversity should be embraced and taught at institutes including Goshen College. He cited data indicating that by 2050, the United States will no longer be a white majority.

“What is clear is that we will no longer be able to stay away from people who are different from ourselves,” Brown said. “Those who are educated, who have an understanding that we belong to the whole world. We belong to each other. We are one. This requires engagement on the part of all of us with those that are different from ourselves.”

Brown said that by addressing current issues and acknowledging the past and the work of Martin Luther King Jr., King’s legacy is kept alive.

“We need to address our current problems,” Brown said. “To contextualize (King) and keep him in the ‘60s makes him irrelevant. We have to bring what he stood for in to this present discourse so that it can impact and so that it can be a positive force for change.”

Brown said that he was happy to speak not just about King’s work in the ‘60s, but that he was able to make the speech more broad and put King’s ideas into today’s world. By doing that, Brown said, King lives on and stays relevant.

“So I think on this day we should be dealing with all kinds of things, not just the dream that he had,” Brown said. “It was fine, (but) we need to contemporize him for these times. Martin Luther King would be proud of our keeping his legacy alive through using some of his ideas for this current time. And then he doesn’t die, he stays alive.”

The college’s study day featured other seminars and discussions. The school’s website states that the day is meant to “emphasiz(e) the values and ideals that characterized King’s work.”