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MLK Tribute Speaker: Celebrate Triumphs but Keep Moving Forward

In a keynote address punctuated often by applause, Marc Lamont Hill issued a call to action Tuesday at Radford University’s sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute.

The late civil rights leader stood for progress and growth, Hill said, and this is the legacy King left for us today. “It's simply not enough to sit idly by, waiting for when it's your turn. Your turn is right now,” said Hill, a nationally known scholar, author and television host, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

The event in the Hurlburt Student Center began with a reception, where Hill chatted with students, faculty and staff members. "It's an honor to be here to see so many people with so much energy, so many students, faculty and administrators who take this day so seriously," Hill said afterward.

The program opened with comments and music, including a welcome by Radford University President Penelope W. Kyle. Describing the occasion as a time for thoughtful contemplation, Kyle said commemorating King’s legacy has become a special moment on campus each year. She quoted from the commencement address he gave in 1965 at Oberlin College in Ohio.

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be,” Kyle quoted. “You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

“As the saying goes, we are in this together,” she continued. “As such, we have an obligation to do our part to leave the world better than we found it.”

To illustrate the point, Kyle cited RU’s Quality Enhancement Plan, created during the university's reaccreditation process, and its theme—"Scholar-Citizen: Create. Connect. Contribute."

"How can we, as educated individuals, transform our knowledge into positive, productive change? How can we be active, responsible global citizens?" Kyle asked. "There are few better examples of this than Dr. King—a man whose entire life was dedicated to a cause greater than himself."

Mark Lamont Hill and RU Students

Students Chloe Baskin (left) and Kaleice Green chat with Hill before the MLK Tribute on campus.

In his address, Hill echoed those sentiments. "Martin Luther King Jr. represented a nation coming to terms with itself," he said. "When we look forward into 2012, we see different classes of people integrated, we see schools that may not have had such diversity 20, 30 or 40 years ago now integrated, and that’s something special.”

“When we look into corporate America, we see more CEOs and CFOs who look different, who sound different, who come from different places,” he continued. “We can say that we are advancing, we have made extraordinary progress."

The 2008 presidential election was a watershed moment for America, Hill said, not just for the election of the first African-American U.S. president but also for the diversity of candidates offered by all political parties.

"Whether you voted for (President Barack) Obama or didn't, the fact that he was elected speaks to something about our nation," Hill said. "The idea that Sarah Palin could be the Republican vice-presidential nominee speaks to something about our nation.”

Having a woman on one ticket and a black man on the other was nothing short of amazing, Hill said. “There's something unusual and special and peculiar about that moment in history. It speaks to the fact that just a century beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, just a few decades removed from barking dogs and water hoses, a few decades beyond the freedom rallies, … one of our own children could become the leader of one of the most powerful nations in history. It says we live in a nation that isn't just growing old but is also growing up."

Yet Hill cautioned against thinking the struggle is over, saying King would still see America's suffering and pain, and strive for something better.

"He would say, what about the poor?" Hill said. "What about the people whose month lasts longer than their money? What about the people who are having their homes foreclosed? What about the rise of first-class jails and second-class schools?"

He urged the audience to remember the progress of the past 50 years but never to forget King's core message.

"I want us to continue to struggle and wrestle with these fundamental sources and forces of freedom so that we can move and mature and grow and expand this nation to allow us to mature fully and allow us to realize its full purpose and possibility," he said. "That's what Martin Luther King Jr. talked about."

In addition to providing regular commentary for CNN, MSNBC, National Public Radio and Fox News Channel, where he was formerly a political contributor and regular guest on "The O'Reilly Factor," Hill hosts the TV show “Our World with Black Enterprise” and is a columnist and editor-at-large for the Philadelphia Daily News. He devotes extensive time to writing and lecturing about culture, politics and education. His contributions have been published in a number of national journals, magazines, books and anthologies, including The Washington Post, Essence magazine and The New York Times.

In 2005, Ebony magazine named Hill one of America's top 30 black leaders under 30 years old. Last year, Ebony included him among America's 100 most influential black leaders.

Jan 18, 2012
Keith Hagarty
(540 831-7749
khagarty@radford.edu