By Sylvia Askew-Newhouse
MEMPHIS — The trip to The LeMoyne-Owen College is a 40-minute drive from my home in Millington, but on this day I made the drive in only 30 minutes. There was a sense of urgency in my soul because on this week the Mid-South was commemorating the 50-year anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My college, The LeMoyne-Owen College (The only Historically Black College in the city of Memphis), has been preparing for this week for months. On Tuesday, April 3, a few classmates, Karim Muhammad, Krishun Lovelace, Trakeisha Millbrook, and myself orchestrated a march from our college to Greater White Stone Missionary Baptist Church where The “I Am 2018” youth rally was being held. (This event was sponsored by C.O.G.I.C. International and AFSCME.)
We marched through the South Memphis streets chanting, “You can’t kill the dream because it lives in me!” causing the residents to pay attention and some even joining in with us chanting.
As we arrived at the church, there were hundreds of college students of different races from all over the country singing “If you’re Happy and You Know It” Although comical, the spirit of the atmosphere was light and harmonious.
The program began and we were greeted and encouraged by celebrities such as Presiding Bishop Charles Blake, CNN correspondent, Angela Rye, comedian, Chris Tucker, Glynn Turman who plays “Colonel Bradford Taylor” on the 90’s sitcom “A Different World,” and a host of other social activist. There were panel discussions on gun control, economic empowerment, urban education, and youth activism.
Wednesday, April 4, marked the 50th year of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. I woke up that morning in a reflective mood. I considered how far we have come as a country and how much further we need to go.
After finishing my first class, my professor, Gavin Wigginson, and classmate, Ari Knight, and myself caught a Lyft and headed downtown to the celebration at The National Civil Rights Museum. I was taken aback by the crowds of people.
There were thousands of people in attendance. I was offered the opportunity to enjoy the program from an up-close and personal account. I felt star struck sitting a few rows and seats away from celebrities and dignitaries such as Roland Martin, Gina Belafonte, Mayor Mark H. Lutrell, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and many others. It took everything in me to refrain from sneaking a selfie with a few of them.
The program was very inclusive with prayers and scripture readings from different religions and speeches from Americans from various nationalities and backgrounds. They were all inspiring in their own right. The 105 Voices HBCU Honor Choir rendered selections including a special rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” arranged and directed by Dr. Roland Carter. The apex of my excitement was being able to see the Rev. Al Green perform his very own arrangement of “Precious Lord.”
I was grateful to be able to experience the activities during MLK50 Week. Growing up I only thought of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a Civil Rights leader but he was much more than that. His message wasn’t only for the objection of oppression of African Americans but the protection of humanity for all people.
This philosophy was proven true through the festivities of the week. The feeling of unity waved through the air. Black, White, Brown, rich, poor, old, and young joined in together to attest that the dream did not die on the balcony of The Lorraine Motel outside of Room 306 at 6:01 p.m. on that tragic April day, 50 years ago but it lives through us every day. We keep the dream alive by our acts of kindness, speaking out against the injustices on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves, spreading hope, and rendering respect for all of mankind. These actions will progress us another 50 years.
By Sylvia Askew-Newhouse