Honoring the King legacy


The Greater Lansing community this week commemorates the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. for the 27th year. The event is two years older than the federal holiday, while the group that produces it is one of the oldest MLK community commissions in the country.

This year I was honored to participate as emcee for the community commemoration’s January 16 luncheon program. The theme of that event, which annually draws more than 1,000 attendees, revolves around “dream keepers”—those who keep Dr. King’s ideals alive through word and deed.

MSU was privileged to host Dr. King in 1965, when he drew more than 4,000 people to his lecture. There, he called for new civil rights legislation and made particular reference to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and its chairperson, who happened to be MSU’s president, John A. Hannah.

I’m proud of MSU’s legacy of leadership in matters of equal opportunity. It is here that the dreams of many diverse students and their parents have found fulfillment. For generations, African American students found an opportunity to succeed here when they could not find it elsewhere. And in 1970, Clifton Wharton became MSU’s 14th president, making him the first African American president of any major university in the United States.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, the “land-grant” act that allowed states to use federal lands to establish or support colleges devoted to the “agricultural and mechanical arts.” Like emancipation itself, it was made politically possible by the Civil War after years of effort by proponents.

We were created to be elite without being elitist and to provide access to cutting-edge knowledge and a classical as well as practical education to the agricultural and mechanical classes of the day—people who previously had been denied such access.

And in so doing, dreaming could be linked to fulfillment for many people who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.

The very existence of land-grant universities speaks to the importance of inclusion and justice in opening access to higher education to all and the resulting opportunity it affords to all with the will to pursue it.

As a pioneer of that system, Michigan State takes seriously its responsibility to serve as a catalyst for upward mobility—the American dream—and for advancing the economic competitiveness of the state and the nation and the quality of life of all citizens. We were—and still are—good enough for the proudest but open to the poorest.

In our own community, the university stands as a microcosm of society, each year welcoming some 10,000 new students, each with his or her own dreams. It is here where many students are exposed to racial and cultural diversity for the first time in their lives. It doesn’t always go smoothly, but here a student can make a real difference by helping build a community that reflects the sort of world they hope to live in.

Respect and appreciation for those different from you is a learned skill, and I think it is one of the most important attributes that our graduates can take with them. It equips them for success in an increasingly interdependent, global society. It’s an ongoing commitment at MSU. We’re working actively to promote respect and to foster a greater sense of community on campus and so to help all of our students dream bigger dreams and find ways to achieve them.

This month we have scheduled a number of activities, as we do every year, to honor the legacy of Dr. King. The 2012 schedule of events and more information are available at inclusion.msu.edu/Outreach/MLK.html.



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