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Aurora event works to recreate historic speech of Martin Luther King

Aug 29, 2013
In The News

The 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was celebrated Wednesday afternoon at Aurora University by having students and guests experience the famous address in a way that mirrored how it was delivered five decades ago.

“We started talking about this last year, and we felt it was something we wanted to recognize on a local level,” said Aurora University history professor Gerald Butters, who organized the 30-minute event, which began at noon. “We wanted people to stand as they did at the Washington rally and to hear the speech rather than read it because there is a different vibe.”

The recognition began with words from Jonathan Dean, executive director for the university’s Wackerlin Center for Faith and Action, who said that it was important to “recreate the moment.”

“We need to allow Dr. King’s words to speak for themselves, and reflect on their power and relevance,” Dean said. “A lot of people didn’t like Dr. King in his time and many did not agree with him. He was a person who reflected the noble tradition of being a prophet, who told us the difficult truth about ourselves that was hard to hear.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) also spoke briefly before the replaying of King’s speech, noting that he was “thankful for all of those who fought for freedoms, but that there is still work to be done.”

“There is still work to be done to realize the dream and that the voice that called for change is still alive,” Foster said. “My own father was a civil rights lawyer who knew Martin Luther King and my father wrote a lot of the enforcement language that was a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Foster also challenged the more than 400 people who gathered on the open quad space on campus to remain active in the cause for change.

“What are you going to do to make your voices heard?” he asked. “We’ve learned that we can affect change if we fight for what’s right.”

Students as well as staff and other visitors spoke of the importance of remembering King’s words and acknowledging the difference his actions have produced years later in our society. Patrick Boyle, a junior from Batavia, said that the anniversary “was an important day in our history.”

“Our school likes to commemorate important events and given that we have a very diverse student population, this helps build a sense of togetherness,” Boyle said. “We should celebrate this event and the changes I’ve seen even in my lifetime. From my perspective, hearing about the people who lived through those years is inspiring. In some ways, I’m shocked by how far we’ve come.”

Barbara Calvert, who also works in the Wackerlin Center for Faith, called Wednesday’s event “a wonderful opportunity for the campus to come together.”

“This is an historical speech and hopefully it’s going to open up some dialogue in terms of how important Dr. King’s role was,” she said. “We sometimes wonder how much young people understand events like this.”

Kim White, a sophomore from Aurora, said it was important people not forget King’s words including the message that anything is possible.

“It’s important that people follow their dreams and not judge,” White said. “People can do whatever they dream they can do, but it’s also important to remember what others went through.”

Aurora University alumni Bill Norwood, 66, of Hillside, said he was a member of the Class of 1968 and that an email alerted him about the event. Norwood agreed a lot of progress in racial equality has been made.

“I came to this campus 50 years ago, and it’s rewarding to see the progress that’s been made although there is still room for a lot more,” Norwood said. “Young people need to catch the vision. We caught it back then and made things better.”

Butters said recreating King’s moment in history on campus was also important because in many ways, “Dr. King’s words are tied to our mission.”

“Our mission statement says that we are an inclusive community dedicated to the transformational power of learning,” he said. “King’s message was about inclusion and as a historian, you always hear people saying things are getting worse. In many ways, things today are a lot better. The racial progress we’ve made in the past 50 years is something that should be celebrated.”