The town-gown event “Continuing the Dream in 2018” featured professor and coordinator of Black World Studies, Rodney Coates, who was recently charged by President Greg Crawford to head up a task force designed to educate the Miami community on how to combat racism and bigotry.
Coates emphasized the theme of event throughout his speech: dreams.
“Dreams without purpose are fantasies,” he said. “And dream makers are everyday people who stand up and fight for change…and while technology allows us to travel to the moon, we need to learn how to travel next door.”
Well over 200 people gathered in Shriver Center on Monday, Jan. 15 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By late morning, dozens of students, faculty, and Oxford residents lined the walls and spilled out into the hallway leading out of Shriver’s Heritage Room.
Throughout the event, Treva Boardman, music director at Westwood Presbyterian Church, led the audience in song, beginning with James Weldon Johnson’s hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun / Let us march on till victory is won.”
Coates’ speech was preceded by Oxford’s NAACP chapter president, Fran Jackson and member Ann Wengler. Jackson and Wengler presented the awards for the Creative Arts Exhibition, in which students from the Talawanda school district, the local sunday school and the McGuffey Montessori School submitted 128 entries into categories of literature, artwork or a combination of both.
“Dr. King was a man of action by love and peace,” Jackson said. “There are distressing echoes of King’s time happening again today, including outright racism.”
The exhibit for the students’ art work will be on display throughout this week until 5 p.m. on Jan. 26 in the Oxford Community Arts Center (OCAC).
David Palmer and Paula Smith led the crowd in renditions of “Oh, Happy Day” and “Brotherhood.”
“Oh happy day (oh happy day) / He taught me how to watch, fight and pray, fight and pray/And live rejoicing every, everyday.”
Following Coates’ speech, associate vice president of institutional diversity at Miami, Ron Scott, delivered a call to action to everyone assembled.
“Look around,” Scott said. “Look at everyone gathered here in this room and help them see that all of these faces belong together and that we are one community.”
Scott encouraged the crowd to challenge those who lie, citing George Orwell’s “1984” as a prime example of how the government and those with positions of authority can use their power to manipulate the less educated and undermine those with dreams of equality.
He explained that it is on us average citizens to be engaged, register to vote and recognize that those in society — especially in politics — who lie and try to pass off made-up stories as truths are absolutely wrong.
“It is our responsibility to hold these individuals accountable and to spread the truth,” he said.
His final charge for every person in the Heritage Room was to visit the Freedom Summer Memorial on Western Campus, urging everyone to go back and learn the history engraved into the memorial chapel.
During the Freedom Summer of 1964, over 800 civil rights activists, many of whom were white college students, were trained at the Western College for Women (now a part of Miami University). Shortly after the volunteers left Oxford to register black voters in Mississippi, three young activists in their early 20’s were murdered: Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Michael Schwerner. Schwerner and Goodman were white New Yorkers and Cheney was a black activist from Mississippi.
“Go back and take a moment to stare at the three trees in memory of Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner,” Scott said. “And then when you’re done, find someone else and bring them back and teach them the history.”
At the end of Scott’s closing remarks the audience erupted into applause. Boardman took the microphone one final time as each person clasped hands with those standing next to them, whether they were strangers or friends.
“Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe / We shall overcome, some day. / We’ll walk hand in hand.”