By Thomas Fitzgerald
As we return for another semester here at USM, we all gain an extra day off before adjusting to a full week of classes. This day off is in recognition of an important figure of American history, as it is dedicated to humanitarian and activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although some may not bring recognition to his accomplishments during this holiday, there are many within the USM community that are actively grateful for the work that he has done to change our society.
It has been almost fifty years since Dr. King was assassinated and taken from us too early, but it is important to evaluate the rhetoric he left us with, and wonder if we are truly leaving the world a place that he would like to call home.
Dr. Ronald Schmidt, an associate professor of political science at USM, wrote a powerful piece about the message that Dr. King was trying to convey. Schmidt stressed that the factors behind war and terrorism are serving as a barrier for our equality, and referenced a speech that King made in 1967 that brought up the point that a system of beliefs that causes beggars requires reconstruction.
“The problem isn’t just with carnival barkers like Donald Trump; assuming so is just another easy comfort. We need to redeem the idea of shared action, and shared sacrifice, and to assume the genuinely, incredibly difficult task of changing, in political institutions and in our streets, the economic system that currently blights so many lives.” Said Schmidt in a published article online in the Maine Beacon.
We have become sensitive to our news media in the modern era when threats of terrorism arise, but according to Schmidt, that may not be the only priority that we have as voting citizens.
“President Obama has recently attempted to challenge the political prioritization of a defense against terrorist organizations over and against any other priority; but as long as Americans keep telling pollsters that they worry about terrorism more than anything else, we can’t just lean on the easy comfort of blaming fear-mongering politicians.” Stated Schmidt
Although the points that Schmidt brought up about inequality recognized by Dr. King regarding the poor and uninformed, there has also been struggles with race as generations have passed. Recent racial riots were as recent as 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland when 25 year old Freddie Gray suffered injuries to his spine while being transported by police and died. Another example of outcry happened in Ferguson, Missouri regarding the unrest following a fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
“Dr. King’s legacy was in the articulation of the violent marginalization of millions of Americans, based on their skin color, and how so many of us, as persons of color, were denied a seat at the table.” Stated Jalali, the coordinator of multicultural student affairs.
Jalali was not hesitant to express the disdain that we are not being active enough to assure equality among all races,
“He challenged America to repair the damage done to the soul of this nation by building beloved communities that were inclusive of all. Now when I listen to the national news, and hear of police shootings of young African-American men and women, the income disparity between America’s whites and blacks, and listen to the name calling and hurtful public expressions made by some of the elected officials, I feel we, as a society, have gone backward. I believe we have failed him.”
It is important to stress the fact that Dr. King opened the eyes of more than just issues with race, as he stood against all forms of inequality that are present within society. However, how can we properly educate our students to have a more open mind about the issues that are plaguing our society? Dr. Flynn Ross, an associate professor of teacher education, could not stress enough how essential it is to address issues of social justice in the classroom
“It is vitally important to continue this education in the classroom, as it is an integral part of the 21st century and any preparation of our future. Citizens requires greater understanding of race as it connects to privilege, poverty, and equality. He was not as much ahead of his time, but more in touch with his time,” stated Ross.
If you are wondering what immediate action can be taken as a part of the USM community to remember and honor what Dr. King stood for, there is a workshop being held on the seventh floor of the Glickman Library on the Portland campus on Thursday, Jan. 28 starting at 5p.m. Financial aid for people new to Maine, as well as recredentialing foreign degrees and certificates will be discussed to assure the educational equality for all seeking an experience here at USM.