BY SYDNEY MUSSER – News Editor
In an effort to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr., Susquehanna invited journalist and former NPR foreign correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault to speak at Winter Convocation on Jan. 25. Hunter-Gault discussed the life of King, his actions during the civil rights movement and his continuing impact on racial issues within the United States today.
The lecture was opened with words from Rev. Scott Kershner, President L. Jay Lemons and SGA president senior Madison Summers. The three commented on attempts to make the campus more inclusive and questioned how to make Susquehanna more welcoming for all students. The step team performed prior to Hunter-Gault’s speech.
Hunter-Gault, who was the first black female student to attend the University of Georgia, spoke about her personal experiences during the movement as well as meeting King.
“I was isolated,” she said in regards to her education at the University of Georgia. “But I knew I did not walk alone.”
She met King in the midst of her struggle to get in to the university. King told her how inspired he was by her efforts.
“He showed such humility,” Hunter-Gault said.
“[King’s] dream is as relevant today as it was when he had it. Part of what I have to say is about faith, so please don’t dismiss it. Even after all these years, I remain in awe of the man who today we are celebrating.”
Hunter-Gault worked in Johannesburg, South Africa from 1997 to 1999 as NPR’s chief correspondent. She discussed how racial issues are not just an American problem but are prevalent worldwide.
“The drop-out rate is high,” she said of South African high school students.
“The representation is not there. Students are demanding to have teachers who look like them, and the professors and teachers are overwhelmingly white.”
“We can’t change racism without addressing it,” she added. “I learned much from my 16 years in Africa, like ‘ubuntu.’ It means ‘I am who I am because you are who you are.’ [King] recognized this. Many African countries have yet to recover from Western oppression. To help us refocus on [King’s] journey, we should focus on his values, which were timeless and transcendental. They require more than just having them. You must act on them.”
Hunter-Gault repeatedly referenced a quote from King throughout her speech. She recited, “The arc of the moral universe is long but bends towards justice.”
“Somebody’s asking how long justice will be crucified,” she quoted. The quote continued: “How long? Not long. No lie can live forever.”
She continued with a reference from a King speech, “’All deliberate speed’ does not mean another century should be allowed to unfold.” She added, “Those words are relevant today, as schools are now more segregated than they were in the 1960s.”
“Young people of color are vastly underrepresented,” she said. “Teachers do not teach the history of [King] and those who marched with him. But you have to keep in mind the reality that happens when you tear down the walls. In case of segregation, you have to deal with the detritus of racism.”
However, Hunter-Gault deliberated to state that no one group is singularly to blame for the lack of representation today.
“I cringe when I hear people blame in general terms,” she said.
“Race is still very much the elephant in the room. But we have not equipped groups with how to navigate through intersections. You can’t just rely on stereotypes or negative experiences.”
Hunter-Gault’s main criticism of modern civil rights activists was that while they effectively point out flaws in the system, they do not offer answers or solutions.
“These skills do take time to cultivate,” she added. “It is not easy. But I would like to suggest to honor [King’s] legacy by standing up and not remaining silent.”
She commented on the amount of ignorance and intolerance on television as a major concern for the progress of equality. Despite these obstacles, she recommended looking to King and his writings for inspiration.
“People return to [King] and his ever hopeful vision of us,” she said. “I believe [King] would be speaking out but with constructive criticism.”
Hunter-Gault offered five minutes for a question-answer session, and was met with a standing ovation after wrapping up her time on the stage.