If he were alive today, Martin Luther King Jr. would be disappointed in some aspects of American life, said the guest speaker at Delaware’s 23rd annual King breakfast celebration Monday.
“We’ve been at war for more than a decade, gun violence in some neighborhoods has reached epidemic levels, income inequality has led to poverty, and race relations in some ways are the worst they’ve been in two decades,” said Denver Post editor Gregory L. Moore to a packed room at Ohio Wesleyan University. “Martin Luther King would be talking about all of these things, particularly the latter. He would be so disappointed, because we’re supposed to be so far beyond where we are today.”
Moore compared race relations to a roller coaster ride in the years since King’s “I have a dream” speech, with the ride being impacted by events such as the O.J. Simpson murder case, the election of Barack Obama, and the Trayvon Martin shooting.
“Today, 53 percent of American citizens say race relations are bad or very bad,” said Moore, an OWU alumnus. “The news isn’t all bad: A majority of Americans believe that more needs to be done to make equal opportunity a reality for everyone.”
He said King deplored war, poverty and prejudice.
“We can’t afford to write people off. We never know where great contributions will come,” Moore said. “I believe everyone can make a difference; that everyone should have an opportunity to reach their full potential; that everyone has value. Therefore, racism has no place in our society.”
As a junior high student in Cleveland, Moore met King in 1968, and it made a lasting impression on him. Moore has studied King’s life, and remains impressed by the civil rights leader’s eloquence, compassion and consistency. Despite being under constant surveillance, King’s private sentiments were the same as his public statements, he said.
Moore believes there should be a national dialogue about race and racism that includes American history.
“Believe it or not, there are folks in this country who think Jim Crow was a person, and that should never be. After a look at what happened, we should get about the business of fixing what ails us and address poverty, income inequality, access to education and figure out what a 21st century economy should be doing to lift all Americans. King never accepted that the richest country in the world would have so many poor people, and neither should we.”
He cited a poll in which Americans felt this attempt at reconciliation would bring people together.
The Martin Luther King Day holiday should be a day of reflection and service, Moore said.
“We can start by asking ourselves a few questions. How can we be better? How can we help somebody? Are we living an integrated life? Are any of our close friends of a different race or background? Are we willing to welcome a person of a different race into our family? Are we guilty of muttering racial epithets under our breath when a driver who just cut us off is Hispanic or Vietnamese? Are we having dinner parties and a lone white or black person integrating our tables?
“Dr. King knew that one important way to bridge the racial chasm was through familiarity. He believed that it would be much more difficult to demonize, brutalize or stereotype one another if we really knew each other in a personal way.”
Moore, an OWU board of trustees member, has also worked at the Boston Globe, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Journal Herald in a nearly four-decade career. His honors include Editor of the Year Award from the National Press Foundation, Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Post has won four Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership.
The 2015 MLK Scholarship recipient was also named Monday. Zahara Harrison, an Olentangy Orange High School graduate, currently attends Ohio University.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.