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Campus celebrates MLK Day

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” sang the procession in the University Center honoring the life and vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Last Monday’s on-campus events centered on a common theme: Racial difference is a continuing struggle in today’s society solvable by acceptance and unification.

Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon set the stage for the day’s events in his “State of Diversity” address. “We can do more than we have to attract minorities to grades 13 through [16],” he said.

Cohon also honored particular students, faculty, and staff for their contributions to a campus life rich in diversity. “Every aspect of student life has been something that this University has invested in aggressively and substantially,” he said.

Music and poetry showcased the personal influence of King’s message of equality on students. Winners of the Martin Luther King writing competition read aloud their prose and poems on racial issues, conveying the impact racial difference still has. The Christian gospel group Joyful Noise held a concert in the University Center’s Alumni Lounge, and Patina Miller brought melody to King’s message of hope and liberty at the closing assembly with the song “Lift Every Voice.”

Panelist voices filled McConomy Auditorium in addressing controversial racial issues in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Topics included the effect of race on the efficiency of rescue efforts and possible sources of racial discrimination.

For Dr. Cecilia Golden, chief executive officer for the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh, there was no viable excuse for the time lapse between the hurricane and clean-up efforts.

James Perry, editor of Black Collegian magazine, added that forcing people into a community isn’t a good plan because the problems of racial discrimination are not based upon intellect. Racial discrimination “is not controlled by logic,” Perry said.

The panel also discussed the learned nature of racial discrimination — that people are taught rather than predisposed to look at colored men and women differently.

“We’re not born racist — we’re taught racist,” Golden said.

Cyril Wecht, Allegheny County’s medical examiner, similarly acknowledged that racism is a result of environment and not of inheritance.

The day culminated in addresses by senior Omar Parris-Dione and guest speaker Derrick Bell. Speaking about personal struggles growing up, Parris-Dione bolstered King’s message that people should judge a man by his actions in times of distress, not those in times of plenty.

“We can continue [King’s] legacy through perseverance ... through realizing that we will be measured through our times of challenge and controversy,” Parris-Dione said.

Bell conveyed a similar message of action over complacency. “King was a humble man.... Feeding the hungry, housing the homeless ... all these would have been his mission,” he said. “The challenge of our lives is the recognition of evil and the determination to take action.”