Author, educator and activist Marc Lamont Hill told students at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not just a black preacher and Civil Rights activist, but a shrewd political strategist who sowed seeds of “revolutionary hope.”
Speaking to a packed audience at the university’s annual MLK Convocation, Hill said he believes it is “nothing short of extraordinary” that the United States has an official holiday to honor King, who was often at odds with the federal government. But he also warned the young audience against complacency.
“While it’s an honor to say we have Barack Obama in the White House just 43 years after black people got the right to vote…that ain’t enough,” Hill said. “In the midst of all this expanding freedom, we are still wrestling with un-freedom.”
America’s issues of poverty, school dropout rates, and soaring prison populations are often categorized as “black problems,” although in reality these struggles affect people from all backgrounds, Hill said. He urged the audience, which included a class of fifth graders from Durham’s W.G. Pearson Magnet Elementary School, to use their education and training to work toward solutions for their own communities and the country.
“The biggest problem in the world today is that there are too many people who don’t do anything,” Hill said. “Where there’s homelessness or poverty, we should be there.”
Hill, who lives in Philadelphia, holds a doctorate in anthropology and serves on the faculty of Columbia University’s Teachers College. His many other roles include serving as host for the nationally syndicated television show “Our World With Black Enterprise,” writing for Huffington Post and providing commentary for CNN.
Hill said King was aware that his work would need to be taken up by future generations.
“Martin Luther King’s legacy cries out: We can’t stop here,” he added.
Following Hill’s address, the NCCU community gathered at Centennial Gardens on campus for a wreath-laying ceremony honoring King.
“Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of dreaming, soaring and serving with a fervent passion is one that continues to live on today,” said NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White.
Other MLK events at NCCU will include a Community Builder meeting Sunday, Jan. 19, at 1:30 p.m. at the A.E. Student Union, involving university representatives and residents and business owners from neighborhoods surrounding campus.
On Monday, Jan. 20, the official MLK holiday, Chancellor Saunders-White will ring the Shepard Bell on campus at 9:15 a.m. in memory of the Civil Rights leader, along with Mark Koonce, president and CEO of the United Way of the Greater Triangle. King was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
Also on Monday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., NCCU students, staff and faculty will join with United Way of the Greater Triangle in an MLK Service Project. More than 200 volunteers will create soup mixes, make warm scarves and teddy bears and create flash cards for residents of nearby McDougald Terrace. Financial and other educational workshops also will take place, and volunteers will lead children in reading and mathematical literacy activities.
From 1-4 p.m., NCCU and Duke University students will gather to continue work on a joint project to create packaged meals for distribution in developing countries during the Million Meals Project at Durham Technical Community College. Work will also continue on the NCCU Food Pantry, slated to open in February in response to food insufficiency in the university community.
“The MLK holiday is a ‘day on’ not a ‘day off’ at NCCU,” said Saunders-White.