LOCK HAVEN, Pa. - Nationally acclaimed speaker and social change advocate Bruce A. Jacobs took to the stage at Lock Haven University yesterday to pay tribute to the legacy of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking to the university community in Price Performance Center, Jacobs explored the many ways in which Dr. King’s legacy has changed our lives.Lock Haven University is a member of the Pennsylvania State
System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the largest provider of higher education in
the commonwealth. Its 14 universities offer more than 250 degree and certificate
programs in more than 120 areas of study. Nearly 405,000 system alumni live and
work in Pennsylvania.
Jacobs was introduced by Mr. Albert W. Jones, Assistant to the President for Social Equity, and senior Jelena Gilliam, President of the Black Student Union.
Jacobs stated that every year at this time, the “mainstream media” run the same clips of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “It’s an amazing speech,” Jacobs said, but it has been “cut up and recycled to death.” Jacobs said that Dr. King was “a threat.” “He was a dangerous man to the forces of his time who stood against social justice and social change.”
Jacobs noted that Dr. King died in 1968. “He died before most of you were born,” Jacobs told the audience, “yet he changed your life.” Jacobs proceeded to describe the many ways in which Dr. King’s legacy lives on to this day.
“The struggle for gay rights,” said Jacobs, “is the preeminent social issue of our time.” The struggle for gay rights mirrors the black struggle for civil rights, Jacobs said, in its methods and its moral strength.
Jacobs said that every time we see a ladies’ room or a men’s room or a water fountain that does not have a sign saying “Whites Only” or “Colored Only,” we are participating in the legacy of Dr. King.
Jacobs pointed out that Dr. King fought not just for equal racial rights, but for equal economic rights as well. He died in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was to lead a strike by the sanitation workers. “Dr. King was about universal access to the American dream, not just black access to the American dream.” Jacobs drew a parallel with the current issue of health care reform. If Dr. King were alive today, Jacobs said, “he would be championing universal access to affordable heal care as a basic condition of citizenship.”
As part of Dr. King’s legacy, the term “Civil Rights” became part of the American vocabulary, Jacobs stated.
Jacobs also described Dr. King’s opposition to the war in Vietnam as unwinnable and immoral, and drew a parallel with the current day, citing the need for a public voice in “how and when American wages war.” This is part of the legacy of Martin Luther King, said Jacobs.
Jacobs also discussed hate crime legislation. Repeatedly, he stated that hate crimes and hate speech are “not ok.” “Hateful speech has consequences,” he said. “It is not ok to let public speech degenerate into threats and character assassination.” He added, “Our awareness that this is not ok is part of the legacy of Martin Luther King.”
President Barack Obama’s call for civility in Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address “was a direct reflection of part of what Martin Luther King left us,” said Jacobs. “Martin Luther King died 40 years ago, but he is everywhere in American society. He might be dead, but he is not gone.”
The crux of Dr. King’s message, said Jacobs, is that the separation of people with different background dehumanizes everybody. “Those who are privileged are denied the opportunity to understand what the world is really like,” he said. “Everybody pays for bigotry.”
“Dr. King knew,” Jacobs said, that “when we look into the goodness of another person’s soul and say ‘I refuse to accept what you are settling for and I demand better of you,’ that gives you power.” “Martin Luther King understood the true power of love,” which is “the ultimate weapon.”
Jacobs urged his audience to “Honor the innate goodness in all of us that demands us to rise to the level of that goodness. “ “The power to do that was brought to us in no small part by the man we honor today. Martin Luther King was imperfect. He knew we’re all imperfect. He knew that our job is to try to do better.” Jacobs concluded, “Forty years after his death, he remains unstoppable. If you do that, you will be unstoppable too.”
After a brief question-and-answer session, the celebration concluded with brief remarks by President Barbara B. Dixon. “Thank you for reminding us that we like our comfort zone, but we don’t learn anything by staying in our comfort zone,” she said. “Thank you for reminding us that we should take our beliefs and what we learn from books, and put them into action.”