Ringing in Dr. King’s message

Michael Lewis

Eric Fingerhut presents his opinions during the panel discussion “Is Freedom in Peril?” yesterday afternoon in the Kiva. The discussion was part of the “Let Freedom Ring” program.

Credit: Andrew popik

“If Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was here today, he would be crying. His movement would be a new movement — we gotta save the children,” the Rev. Aaron Wheeler said in his speech yesterday in the Kiva.

Wheeler came to the university to help kick off Black History Month. The event was one of 13 held yesterday, all with the theme, “Let Freedom Ring.” Wheeler was chosen because he is the senior chairman of the Ohio Civil Rights Commission.

Wheeler began by saying he would speak “from the bottom of (his) heart.” He mentioned he might not be politically correct, but said he was going to speak as “a soldier trying to save our children.”

He discussed problems in our society from the drug pushers to the lyrics in hip-hop music and said, “America is hurting.” He also said there is still hope in America and that we can still make a difference.

“No more will we let rappers corrupt our values,” Wheeler said. “No more will we let drug dealers take away our children. No more will we let gang violence overrun our cities. We are telling America ‘no more.’ We love our children too much.”

He referred to 20 percent of the black population not having insurance, how more and more black men are going to jail and how women ages 25-34 are setting AIDS records among our population.

“People ask me when are we gonna have a movement?” Wheeler said. “How we gonna have a movement if we gotta clean up our house?”

In the last week, Pastor Wheeler was one of a small number of clergy that had the audience of President Bush. Equality, values and problems in our society were some of the issues discussed.

“We sat eight feet across the room looking each other in the eye, and I said ‘Mr. President, there’s a divide in America. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.’”

Wheeler alluded to a situation in Zanesville when the Ohio Civil Rights Commission stepped in to help a poor black family.

Apparently, across the street white home owners were watering their lawns, but on the other side, a black family had no running water. Now they have water.

“We’re still not free,” Wheeler said. “We are not shackled by chains anymore, but we are shackled by our minds and spirits.”

He told a story about the five days and nights he spent in a tent in a gang and crime section of Little Rock, Ark., in 1993.

He slept on Martin Luther King Boulevard, between the Bloods and the Crypts — the same place where troops put down protests in 1957 in order to protect the “Little Rock nine,” the first black children to be integrated in white schools.

“Twenty-some boys came up to me, and one put a gun to my chin and pulled the trigger. No bullet. I passed my water. You would pass your water too,” Wheeler said. “He passed the gun and the next boy pointed it to my ear. Click. The third time, a boy put the gun to my heart. Click. The fourth time, a boy put it to the back of my neck. Click. God muzzled the gun so I could be here at Kent State and tell you to save our children!”

“I loved his speech,” said Lakeisha Johnson, a junior justice studies major. “It related to our generation. The younger generation forgot where we came from.”

Kent resident Ellen Pochedly said, “I agree with what he said about saving the children. The movement is to save the children.”

Wheeler is launching an initiative to include Kent State for a gathering at the Washington Monument in 2007.

“It will be a march people will never forget,” Wheeler said. “What we will do on that day is bring whites, blacks, Asians and all races to stand as one.”

Contact ethnic affairs reporter Michael Lewis at [email protected].