JACKSON TWP.  Earlier this week, students and faculty at Kent State University's Stark campus took time to celebrate and remember the life and ministry of one of history's most impactful Americans.

The campus' Office of Multicultural Initiatives hosted "Speak Your Peace: Reflections Honoring the Life and Legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr." for the second year.

"It's important for us to continue to remember all kinds of landmarks in history, particularly Martin Luther King as a landmark in the pursuit of justice and equality," said Kathy Kinzer-Downs, coordinator. "When we don't remember, we repeat. If we're not remembering, we're not passing it on to the next generation."

Asked what she thought was the biggest misconception about King, Kinzer-Downs smiled.

"Maybe that he was softie," she said. "We're quick to quote him, people on both sides of the political spectrum, but perhaps we forget the core of his radicalism in the pursuit of justice. It was more than just talk. It was something he was willing to lay down his life for."

"We must never forget the bravery of those who cleared the pathway at great cost for (preserving) the values we hold, of equality, justice and compassion," said the Rev. Michael Gleason, director of the Interfaith Campus Ministry. 

Never forget

Gleason also talked about the role of black gospel and secular music during the civil rights movement.

Gleason, who said King exemplified the best of America, read Coretta Scott King's speech on the meaning of the King holiday.

"He paid with his life," he said. "We had better not forget the man."

Kinzer-Downs, who did an adaptation of King's 1968 "Mountaintop" speech, said she believes there's been an "awakening of conscience" among the current generation of young people, particularly millennials.

She compares it to the original civil rights movement, which started at the grassroots.

"People did the work in their communities, and Dr. King came to them," she said. "The movement was never a movement of one person. I think we have a young generation that's 'woke.'"

Robert Hamilton, a professor of biological sciences, presented a timeline of American history and civil rights. He noted that Utah was the last state to legalize the King holiday in 2000, and that President Donald Trump signed a law on Jan. 9, upgrading King's birthplace, Ebenezer Baptist Church and King's burial site from a National Historic Site to a national historic park, the first in the state of Georgia.

Remembering King

Stark campus Dean Denise Seachrist said she never got to hear King speak, but her mother did in the summer of 1958.

"She and three of her churchwomen drove 350 miles across Ohio to the campus of Purdue University," Seachrist said. "They went to hear about the founding of a new church, the United Church of Christ, but they left with the words of the most influential American civil rights leader."

Seachrist reminded the audience of how much King valued education.

"I treasure King's teaching and instruction," she said. "He knew the value of education, its purpose and encouraged all to pursue the personal growth an education provides."

Kinzer-Downs said she doesn't see any specific person rising as a leader, but she is optimistic about the growing activism by the country's young adults.

"This generation is alive and about the business," she said. "I think that's all right."

Reach Charita at 330-580-8313 or charita.goshay@cantonrep.com
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