On Monday, Ohio Wesleyan University hosted the 29th annual Delaware County Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which featured local speakers discussing Dr. King’s life and legacy.
This year’s event was themed “why we can’t wait” and focused on the ongoing fight for freedom.
One of the first speakers during the live-streamed event was OWU President Dr. Rock Jones, who said the event is traditionally held in person but was moved online for the second year in a row due to the pandemic.
Jones said Dr. King’s mission for freedom continues today.
“Freedom today is the freedom to move safely without fear of violence or assault,” Jones said. “Freedom today should be the freedom to cross a street without fear of being the victim of a racial slur. It should be the freedom to vote without fear of intimidation. It should be the freedom to speak without fear of retaliation. It should be the freedom to be without fear of erasure. Too often in today’s society, those freedoms don’t exist. That is why we can’t wait today.”
Rev. Dr. Aimee Anderson, of Zion AME Church, delivered a prayer during the broadcast and encouraged viewers to continue the fight for justice.
“Let us remember that the work starts when this program ends,” Anderson said during the prayer. “The work never ends, it is daily that we must fight for justice for all. It is daily that we must fight for peace in our community. It is daily that we must fight to keep his dream alive.”
Dr. Nicole Jackson, an associate professor of history at Bowling Green State University, discussed the Civil Rights Movement and told viewers about Diane Nash, one of its leaders.
“One of my favorite things about the Civil Rights Movement is that it involved everyone …” Jackson said. “The Civil Rights Movement was not just a moment a time, for many of the people who lived through it, there are lessons that reverberated for the rest of their lives. For me personally, Diane Nash’s work and life is an inspiration, a reminder to be of service, to hold your principles and people dear, and to build community when and where you can.”
Tamika Vinson Reid, chair of the Delaware African American Heritage Council, spoke about Bayard Rustin, who played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and served as one of Dr. King’s advisors.
“He was a man whose life was shaped by the very prejudices the movement fought against, not only because of his race but because he was gay,” Vinson Reid said. “Today, we must continue to take up the mantle of Rustin, who laid the groundwork for speaking truth to power. He showed us that we can be enraged by injustice, but we cannot allow it to destroy us. As long as injustice exists, we cannot walk alone and we cannot wait.”
Dr. Charles Montgomery, teaching pastor at Vineyard Columbus, spoke about “beloved community” and how people must come together to move forward.
“We’ve got to see distance as a barrier to peace,” Montgomery said. “Distance demonizes. (Distance tries) to get us to deny that all of us are made in the image of God, that’s what allows racism and sexism and tribalism and colonialism and every other ism. … If I can deny the humanity of you, that leads me to believe that I’m better than you. … When we understand each other’s situation, we become candidates to make meaningful contributions.”
Montgomery retold the parable of the Good Samaritan and encouraged everyone to follow that example to create a better community.
“If we want to build beloved community, we use difference as a doorway for dialogue. We see distance as a barrier of peace, but we also have to do something for justice,” Montgomery said. “If we want to be serious about community, we’ve got to be serious about justice. Just like the Samaritan, you start where you are, you use what have, do you what you can … to love out loud.”
Jason Timpson, the director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs at OWU, said he admired the passion displayed by civil rights leaders and encouraged viewers to carry that energy forward.
“In 2022, we should have that same passion. We can’t wait,” Timpson said. “We are seekers of justice. My question for you is what baton will you pick up? …bThere’s always space to do what’s right.”
The event was live-streamed on OWU’s YouTube channel and can be viewed at youtu.be/qoSDpZ9WjSc.