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MLK speech turns 50, discussion about race equality today

MLK speech turns 50, discussion about race equality today

MLK speech turns 50, discussion about race equality today
August 28
17:36 2013

Staff Report

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s historical “I have a dream” speechPresident Obama delivered his commemorative speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial earlier this afternoon, and many news outlets took to analyzing how the march has impacted today’s society. We spoke with several UNT professors and student organization leaders about their perspectives.

Cheylon Brown, Director of the Multicultural Center

“We see now that the demonstration that took place for race and ethnicity rights has now gone over into our sexuality and our gender fights for equality. It’s imperative to remember that it took all of the marches and different types of struggles to make the ones that we are going through now have an opportunity to take place.

“I think we’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we are, by any means, where we should be.

“I think the first impact would be awareness and consciousness. Secondly, when we talk about awareness it brings about a different level of entitlement because people feel they have aright to those civil liberties. For that we will forever be indebted to our ancestors.

“Even on campus we still just recently received gender-neutral bathrooms. I had a student come in and ask about changing their name and changing their gender on their ID card and how they are found in the system and there’s nothing in place for that here at the University of North Texas as of yet. We’ve had students come in who still encounter professors saying things they shouldn’t say or making students feel uncomfortable in the classroom when it should be a safe and welcoming environment. So I think we’ve come a long way, but we haven’t arrived yet.”

Uyen Tran, Director of Multicultural Center Programming and advisor for UNT Asian Student Association

“That speech impacted everyone period. We wouldn’t have a lot of the rights or privileges that we have if that hadn’t happened. All of it is still relevant today because there is a lot of discrimination today.

“If you look at civil rights according to the LGBT issues that have been going on, your right to marry whoever you love affects everyone across all ethnicities, Asians included.

“There’s a belief that, of all minorities in the US, that Asians are successful, Asians are smart. They are all positive reactions or affirmations, but that’s not actually the reality, so a lot of issues such as poverty among Asian-Americans get ignored.”

Troy Elliot, president of the UNT Black Student Union and music education and vocal performance junior

“Today’s population and our generation’s civil rights movement is coming from the Trayvon Martin verdict. That’s just a very blatant disregard for human life in general that I think was race related.

“It’s kind of sad to think of how far we have come, and yet this anniversary is being commemorated by this particular situation. It’s just a show of how far we still have to go.

“Things like that show, yeah, how far we have come, but also how far we have to go. Honestly [today], for me, is going to be a disappointment in the country that I live in.”

Clark Pomerleau, advisor for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Denton and associate history professor in the College of Arts and Sciences

“Many minority rights movements in the United States have used the African American civil rights movement as a model in terms of tactics and strategies.

“I think we see a number of things connected to the Martin Luther King speech. One is that idea of equality and getting to a place of either colorblindness or recognizing diversity without seeing it as better or worse. But in the historical moment of that march in 1963 you also see specifically where gay rights were not in that Martin Luther King’s right hand man Bayard Rustin, who was really organizing that march, and he spent his civil rights career organizing in the background because he was a gay man. So both his enemies and even supporters of civil rights within the NAACP would point to his homosexuality as a problem for the civil rights movement.

“So that’s one place where we do see some gains because we do see, although not huge numbers, much more of a possibility for people to be public figures and be gay, lesbian, bi, pan or trans.

“I think we see in our contemporary society the need for further gains across lots of areas of minority rights. LGBT, but also clearly African American and other racial and ethnic minorities and we see that with the violence that is still persistent and the denial or attempt to deny people equal rights within this country, whether it’s voting rights or marriage equality or just decent treatment within a prison system.”

Laura Salazar, president of the UNT Hispanic Student Association and advertising senior

“It definitely gave other minority groups, like the Hispanics, the courage to continue to fight for their civil rights. That was also during the Chicano movement and there were a lot of farmworkers unions trying to fight for their rights for equals, so when they saw the March on Washington was empowering they got the motivation to to keep going with their fight to get equal pay for farmworkers.

“There’s still room for improvement. Being a Hispanic in a dominant white area, I have seen that minorities are still treated unfairly and I have experienced in myself up here in the area, so I definitely think we have room to grow and improve on it. But we have come a long way from where we were to where Hispanics are – CEOs and CMOs and all of the higher up jobs.”

Neilesh Bose, member of the Contemporary Arab and Muslim Cultural Studies Institute and associate history professor

“The march opened up discussion about equality outside just black and white. It was actually called the Jobs and Freedom march, which I think sometimes gets lost in the discussion. Race and ethnicity includes many different aspects. Muslim voices have been seemingly absent from that discussion.

“We have a long way to go. There are two major issues that need to be discussed – Muslim history in the U.S. needs to be part of the public discussion, and the ways U.S. foreign policy affects Muslims in the United States.

“King’s message was to challenge power structures through religious inspiration. It’s been said he was inspired by Gandhi’s teaching but was really someone who felt religion was not for one group of people. He was very open to different sources and inspirations, an important point for Muslims.

“In the 1950s and ‘60s, African Americans felt Islam was an alternative community outside the established religions and communities. It was not a large movement, but many Muslims felt MLK could speak across boundaries. They felt he was one of their own leaders.”

Photo Courtesy MCT

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