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Courage and purpose, 50 years later

August 28, 2013
Katrina Caldwell

Katrina Caldwell

by Katrina Caldwell

Today is an important one in the history of the United States, because it is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, which was the culmination of decades of struggle for human dignity and civil rights in this country.

Many of us have seen the moving images and heard the iconic voices that demanded jobs and freedom on that day back in 1963.

The desperate need to stop the suffering of so many was probably on the minds and hearts of those hundreds of thousands of individuals – many of them young people – who gathered at the Jefferson Memorial 50 years ago in an extraordinary display of courage and purpose.

We know now what they could not have possibly known then – that the world would be transformed irreparably by their decision to stand up for justice and to create a world that safeguards the rights of all of its citizens, that guarantees equal access to opportunity and prosperity, and that promises that each person has the right to live without fear of systematic hatred and violence.

As you reflect on this day, I hope that you feel a call to action when you see the rights of others being diminished. I hope that you make the effort to sacrifice your time and talents to help those who are marginalized and disempowered. I hope that you speak up when you see others being mistreated. We all share in the responsibility of making this world a better place for generations to come.

MLK Dream 50

Though significant progress has been made in race relations in this country since that day, there is still important work that needs to be done. We are at a crossroads. Many of us have watched as those rights, which were so valiantly fought for, have been challenged and in some cases narrowed in the last few years.

As well, recent incidents remind us that our differences still have the potential to divide us as a nation. However, we have also experienced moments that should restore our hope that our commonalities have the power to bring us together to regain lost ground and make progress on the social injustices that some still face today.

Institutions and groups all over the country are celebrating this important moment this week.

Please come join the Center for Black Studies and the Black Student Union from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30 in the MLK Commons  for a rally in honor of the 50th Anniversary. After students and faculty members share some of the speeches that were given in 1963, the Black Student Union and other student organizations will lead a march to Central Park (on west campus between Grant and Stevenson Towers residence halls) for a community barbecue.

Katrina Caldwell is assistant vice president for diversity and equity at NIU.