Tuesday, January 21, 1997

Remembering the Dream

Remembering the Dream

Yesterday, former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders came to the University to honor Martin Luther King’s dream. Elder urged students and community members to help King fulfil his dream by being a force for positive social change.

Her speech was part of a day of celebration that included performances from campus groups such as MaJ’N and Soul Umoja Gospel Choir.

Jocelyn Elders, MD, former Surgeon General of the United States, gave the keynote speech for the University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration, January 20 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

More than 1100 community members, U of C employees, faculty and students attended.

The ceremony began with a traditional Aztec dance by the Grupo Folklorico Internacional.

The celebration’s speeches were interspersed with singing by Make a Joyful Noise (MaJ’N), the Motet and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel Choirs, and the newly-formed Soul Umoja Gospel Choir.

Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Chapel, gave the invocation. Provost Geoffrey Stone welcomed students and community members and Ilya David, a first-year doctoral student at the Divinity School, read King’s famous speech entitled, “Our God is Marching On.”

During her keynote speech, Elders touched such issues as women’s health, child malnutrition, abortion issues and the United State penal system.

“Too many people keep their ‘power’ in their pockets in the form of a gun,” Elders said. “We have too many people who graduate high school whose shoes light up when they walk but whose brains go dead when they talk,” Elders quipped.

Elders was the first African-American Surgeon General, sworn into office in 1993. Because of her controversial liberal views, Elders stepped down from her post a few months later.

The professor emeritus at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the U of C, Dr. Bowman introduced Elders yesterday.

“Dr. Elders was born in South West Arkansas. Her parents were sharecroppers. She was the oldest of eight children,” said Bowman.

“Joycelyn treasures her childhood in a three-room shack. She always says, to people who ask, ‘I did not feel poor as a child because everyone else was,’ Bowman said.

“Dr. Elders is outspoken, and that is an understatement,” Bowman said.

“But [Elders] has drop dead integrity and drop dead honesty on the numerous issues that she courageously tackles,” Bowman said.

“I met Dr. Elders a couple of years back, and although [she] had forgotten her speech in a taxicab, she ended up giving the most dynamite speech that day,” said Jeanne Taylor, assistant dean for Ambulatory Care and Community Health Services.

“I have a lot of admiration for her. [Elders] is fearless.”

During Elders’ tenure as Surgeon General, she tried to combat problems such as teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, violence (especially black on black violence), AIDS, infant mortality and other topics. Elders spoke about her journey.

“I loved being Surgeon General. I did the best I could, and if I could do it again, I would do it exactly the same way,” said Elders. “The problem was that people did not want to accept change, and that is what I stand for.”

“Dr. Elders was a great choice [as a keynote speaker.] She was true to herself and that did not necessarily translate to public office,” said Alyna Chien, a first-year medical student who coordinates health education workshops for Community health initiatives.

“I felt really good to be able to sing for ex-Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders,” said Aaron Reliford, a first-year in the College, who sang with both MaJ’N and Soul Umoja. “Joycelyn Elders is a personal hero of mine,” said Chris Haen, a 1995 graduate of the School of Social Service and Administration.

“She has always been outspoken about sexuality and sexual behavior as it relates to health.”

Students, staff discuss lack of MLK holiday on campus. “I have not seen a concerted push among the students and faculty to have MLK day be a university holiday. Currently, University employees can take MLK day off as a paid holiday,” said Kathy Stell, deputy dean of students and chair of the Coordinating Council for Minority Issues.

“I am reminded of something that my children’s school principal said: ‘On this day, in remembrance of him, Dr. Martin Luther King would want you to go to school [and learn], said Lyn Elzy, a secretary for the dean of students in the University.

“In my Quaker high school, for MLK day, instead of school everyone had the opportunity to attend a variety of workshops. You could pick and choose,” said Joe Ravenell, a first-year medical student.

“I believe that [the] keynote speech and the open community reception [in the Biological Sciences Learning Center from 3:30-5:30 p.m] for Elders are ways of instituting change in university policy,” he said.

“We are hoping to have a MLK day committee which will facility student/administration communication.” Stell said.

Originally published Tuesday, January 21, 1997

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Junior (1929-1968) was a non-violent civil rights leader, a 1964 Nobel peace prize winner, and a well respected member of the African-American community. King graduated from Morehouse College at the age of 19.

Three years later, King earned the Bachelor of Divinity degree at Crozer Theological Seminary.

He was awarded a Ph.D. from Boston University in 1955. King led the Montgomery boycott in the mid 50s in order to combat the segregated bus system, as president of the newly-formed Montgomery Improvement Association.

The United States Supreme Court subsequently declared Alabama’s segregation laws unconstitutional. King, an advocate for non-violent change, always said of the African-American community,

“We will not resort to violence. We will not degrade ourselves with hatred. Love will be returned for hate.” In 1957, King and other southern black ministers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), King serving as the first president. King led countless other demonstrations in response to church bombings, segregated conditions in the South, and to mobilize voter registration in the Black community.

Mass demonstrations culminated in the march to Washington that attracted more than 250,000 protestors, on August 28, 1963. It was there, on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, that King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, while seeking to assist a garbage worker’s strike in Memphis.

Congress established the third Monday of January as a federal holiday in 1983, in his memory.

-Kate Olsen and Pamela Miller (Appea)

Originally published Tuesday, January 21, 1997