Revisiting the M.L.K. dream

By Sam Stephenson

News Editor

Caitie McMekin / The Campus Autumn Vogel, ‘15, listens to a panel speaker during “The State of the Dream 50 Years Later” presentation commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the Campus Center on Aug. 28, 2013. Several speakers, including assistant professor of history Frank Forts; valerie guerrero, assistant director of the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success; Mattie McKines, AmeriCorps VISTA youth program coordinator at the Booker T. Washington Center in Erie; Rev. Sarah Roncolato, ’80, pastor of Stone United Methodist Church in Meadville; and Kirby Vasquez, ’15.
Caitie McMekin / The Campus
Autumn Vogel, ‘15, listens to a panel speaker during “The State of the Dream 50 Years Later” presentation commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in the Campus Center on Aug. 28, 2013. Several speakers, including assistant professor of history Frank Forts; valerie guerrero, assistant director of the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success; Mattie McKines, AmeriCorps VISTA youth program coordinator at the Booker T. Washington Center in Erie; Rev. Sarah Roncolato, ’80, pastor of Stone United Methodist Church in Meadville; and Kirby Vasquez, ’15.

Yesterday, Allegheny joined the nation in celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King Junior’s “I Have a Dream” speech by holding a panel discussion exploring the state of the “dream” today, as well as ringing the Bentley Bell at 3 p.m. along with hundreds of thousands of people across the nation.

The panel was the kick-off event of Allegheny’s annual theme, the Year of Civil Rights, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is combined with the Allegheny’s bicentennial celebration.

Assistant professor of history Frank Forts, a member of the panel, said that combining these two anniversaries with the bicentennial celebration is significant because of Allegheny’s history.

“Allegheny was accepting black students when most white institutions were not,” Forts said. “So Allegheny does have a history, in some ways, to opening its doors to American society.”

Along with Forts, the panel consisted of valerie guerrero, assistant director of the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success; Mattie McKines, AmeriCorps VISTA youth program coordinator at the Booker T. Washington Center in Erie; Rev. Sarah Roncolato, ’80, pastor of Stone United Methodist Church in Meadville; and Kirby Vasquez, ’15.
Each member spoke about experiences they had with racism, parts of King’s speech that meant the most to them and what they believe the state of King’s dream is today.

“A lot has been accomplished, but we have so much more to do,” Forts said.

Forts outlined what he called the “Frontiers of Battle” for getting to the core of racism in today’s culture.

“I would argue a shift away from notions of ‘this person’s a racist’ or ‘that persons a racist,’” Forts said. “I think those questions don’t get to the core of the issue. I think the core of the issue, for me, centers around the notion of white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. I think those now should be the issues that we talk more and more about.”

Vasquez felt that because the panel and discussion was lighthearted, it helped people open up and acknowledge the privilege they may or may not have which helped further the conversation the panel had started.

“I think that one of the hardest things for people to do is admit they are privileged,” Vasquez said. “Unfortunately, if you say the words ‘racist’ or ‘privileged,’ people shut down and I think that it was really good how it was handled here because we’re not shutting people down for being privileged. It’s more like ‘how can you use your privilege to change things around us?”

Jennifer Glen, ’15, felt that the panel and topics discussed were very important to the community because racism still exists today.

“It’s only been 50 years since the March on Washington and the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and I don’t think much progress has been made since then,” Glen said. “I think that was highlighted in the discussion today.”

Forts noted that the “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the two greatest speeches in American History, the other being the Gettysburg Address, because of the overarching themes of making the government and democracy better.

“His dream is not so much a dream that I think we can see happening in reality now, but it is something we keep ahead of us as a guide,” Forts said. “We keep it before us to show us the way.”