Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was this past Monday. It may have passed with little notice, since classes were still in session and all the offices on campus were open. There were a smattering of events held across campus, but the one that caught my eye was the display on the MLK Father Hesburgh photo in the Snite Museum of Art. It was small, much smaller than the blown up version in LaFun, and showed four not two people. I felt like I was standing in front of a shred of history and a piece of the present.
Race is especially on my mind this week in light of MLK Day, the Observer Viewpoint “On hearing you might transfer,” and the State of the Union Address. If you haven’t read the Viewpoint, I urge you to now. It is proof that racism is alive and well, not just in the world outside the bubble, but here on campus. We would like to think that after the Civil Rights Movement we ended racism; we didn’t. The Civil Rights Movement was great progress against legislated and institutional racism, but it still exists. Dr. King’s battle isn’t over; we must keep fighting for equality.
I was struck, one day, after considering the events in Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter and Eric Garner that we are living through another Civil Rights Movement. The fight for racial equality did not end in the 1960s and today, the Civil Rights we are fighting for are not just racial equality, but gender equality, religious tolerance, and the right to choose what gender we identify with and who we marry regardless of our gender.
Dr. King said in an April 3, 1968 speech, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!” We, as Americans, have reached that mountain top. We have looked around and we know what the Promised Land looks like. It is a place where all are treated with equal human dignity, where justice is not subjective, where what you look like or who you love or what you believe or your gender do not determine your rights. We need to keep fighting Dr. King’s battle, because we haven’t reached the Promised Land yet.
Our professors should not have to tell a student of color, “You make Notre Dame a better place. Diversity in all of its expressions, whether racial, ethnic, economic, linguistic, aesthetic or other forms, makes for a stronger, smarter, more wholly human community. While it is not your responsibility to make Notre Dame a better place, we want you to know that your presence in this university matter. You belong here.”
Why? Why do our professors have to tell anyone that they belong here? It is the right of every student, of every person, to sit where they please, to earn a good education, to be treated with dignity and respect, to be viewed as innocent until proven guilty, to be judged on their merits, not their race, religious beliefs, gender, or sexual orientation.
I want to challenge you to chase and fight for Dr. King’s Dream. Shut down discrimination and racism when you hear it uttered, see it printed, or witness it being performed. We may not be able to change the world outside campus today, but we can start changing campus today. We must all do our best to make campus a safe haven, for all students, staff and faculty, regardless of their beliefs, their color, their religion, their gender, or their sexual orientation.
We must put a stop to racism and a stop to anti-Semitism and religious intolerance; we must seek to close the wage gap and end sexism; we must respect human dignity and every person’s right to live their lives as they so choose. It is not our place to judge, to limit, or to control; rather, it is our responsibility to protect and foster diversity, to grow in our love of one another, and to recognize that racism is alive and well in America, but that we can reach the Promised Land together if we fight every day for equality.
I have a dream, too. And my dream is that we love each other and seek to understand each other. I see America on the cusp of another great movement; let it be peaceful, let it be patient, let it begin today, with you and me.