Author, analyst reveals King’s true dream

Kyle Roerink

CNN’s Roland Martin says leader’s vision

Roland Martin, a CNN contributor and syndicated columnist, was the keynote speaker at the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in the Student Center Ballroom. David Ranucci | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Watch a video of the MLK day presentation.

Realizing the dreams of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. begins with understanding that his famous speech, originally titled “Normalcy Never to Return,” intended to equalize economic playing fields for all citizens in America.

More than 200 people filled the Student Center Ballroom yesterday to honor King as more than a civil rights stalwart at the Seventh Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. The keynote speaker, Roland Martin, a CNN political analyst and one of Ebony Magazine’s 150 most influential African Americans, said during every King celebration a disservice is done to him because of what is typically focused on during the events.

“What I mean by that is we often talk about Dr. King’s dream,” Martin said. “Last week you have folks who said with the swearing in of President Obama that Dr. King’s dream has been realized. That is B.S.”

He said King’s famous speech, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, was not about ending racism and working toward unity. Rather, it was about economic disparity.

“If you read the top of the speech, it lays out when America gave the Negro a check stamped ‘insufficient funds,'” he said. “If you want to bring it to present day, what he (was) talking about is that you have school systems getting $5,000 per child in inner city and rural (districts), and you have suburban districts, with higher property taxes, getting $15,000 per child. That is an economic disparity.

“What he is talking about is that you have women, white women, making 77 cents on the dollar to a white male. You have African-American males making 72 cents to a white male with the same job, and a black woman making 68 cents on the dollar compared to a white male. That is what (Dr. King’s) speech was about: the economic disparities in America.”

He encouraged the audience to understand that when King gracefully repeated the words “free at last” at the end of his uplifting speech at the Lincoln Memorial, he was referring to economic freedom.

Martin said when King was killed in Memphis in April 1968, he was fighting for sanitation workers who were unfairly treated and under compensated.

“Do you know what’s amazing? Forty-one years after his death, those same sanitation workers he was fighting for are still on the job because they never had retroactive pay increases or benefits,” he said. “So here we are celebrating his dream but losing sight of the folks he was fighting for.”

During his speech, Martin said the problem he has with today’s generation is that it continues to let others carry the ball. When King was 26 years old, he said, he was chosen to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association. Martin said his point in mentioning King’s age was because people spend too much time talking about how wonderful the civil rights leader was instead of taking action and making change.

“If you study (the civil rights) movement … the energy came from young people,” Martin said. “In fact, the sit-ins were led by 18-, 19-, 20-year-old students … they didn’t ask for anyone’s permission.”

Martin said the annual King celebrations should be a recommitment to a persons’ dedication to serving others. He said that when you celebrate someone like King it is a reminder that you are celebrating somebody who cared about serving others.

“I think Mr. Martin made a good point when he asked, ‘What do people do at lunch; who do they sit with?'” said President Lester Lefton in an interview after the speech. “I find students at Kent State, faculty as well … we want to be with people like us, and people are uncomfortable stepping out of their comfort zones.”

It is very important for students at Kent State to be involved in the university, said Dylan Sellers, junior applied conflict management major.

“You need to be able to put in your two cents,” he said. ” … The message of Dr. King was for anyone to get involved. He was not a person who believed in black people; he looked at the economics of it all.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Kyle Roerink at [email protected].