King’s birthday remembered while racial gap remains open

With classes between noon and 2 p.m. rescheduled for Wednesday, students of a myriad of races, creeds and nationalities took seats in the Music Building Concert Hall last Monday afternoon to partake in the College’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The program featured a keynote address by Randal Pinkett, president and CEO of BCT Partners, a technology and policy consulting firm based out of Newark. Pinkett’s remarks focused on the contemporary nature of King’s vision: “The illusion of full inclusions,” Pinkett said, “and the power of personal choice.”

“One cannot help but be astounded by the progress we have made in such a short period of time,” Pinkett said, “Right? But is what we see full inclusion, or is what we see an illusion?”

While Pinkett was quick to recognize the significant strides toward equality the African-American community has made since Lyndon Johnson pushed his Civil Rights Act through Congress in 1964, he put more emphasis on the work that is yet to be done.

“I know what I see,” Pinkett said. “I see high-ranking minority officials in the government – Condoleeza Rice, Alberto Gonzalez. I see minorities generating and maintaining wealth,” he said, citing rapper Jay-Z, who recently became part-owner of the New Jersey Nets. “I see people of color breaking the glass ceiling as CEOs of major corporations. We have made progress, but we can’t forget that our work isn’t done.”

“In fact,” Pinkett said, “our progress has been abysmally slow. In some areas we are further from full inclusion today than we were in the 1960s.”

Pinkett cited statistics regarding the integration of the public school system. While Brown v. Board of Education ended institutionalized segregation in American schools, he noted that in 2000, 72 percent of African-American students attended predominantly minority schools.

He noted that New Jersey ranks sixth in the states with the lowest percentage of white students attending predominantly minority schools. “Northern states are even more segregated than southern states,” Pinkett said.

Segregation, Pinkett said, has also increased in regard to where people choose to live. He said white people tend not to move into neighborhoods where the African-American community exceeds 20 percent of the population. “Scholars believe this happened in the 1970s and 1980s as whites moved into the suburbs,” he said.

“We made the decision not to integrate with one another, to socialize together, to worship together,” Pinkett said.

To emphasize this point, Pinkett spoke of King’s life as a normal man – his youth spent in Atlanta, Ga., where he enrolled at Morehouse College before attending seminary in Chester, Pa. By 1954, King was back in his native south, preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.

A year later, as Rosa Parks refused to vacate a bus seat reserved for white passengers, the African-American community in Montgomery turned to King for support. “Where did they go in the midst of this outrage?” Pinkett asked. “The community spiritual center, the churches and the 26-year-old Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Just as King was an ordinary man, he made ordinary decisions to close the racial gap in America, according to Pinkett. “Not everyone makes these choices not to interact with people who are different from them,” he said.

Similarly, Pinkett said these same choices now lay in the lap of this generation. “I believe we need more space,” he said. “Literal space … figurative space … transcendent space – a vision for the future, expanding our thinking beyond our current environment, Dr. King’s dream.”

“We must ask the hard questions about whether we are willing to be at the front lines or should we have our children at the front lines,” Pinkett said.

“(Pinkett’s speech) was inspiring,” Tamaria Green, freshman sociology major, said. “It makes you aware we’re not done. We go here, we know the percentages (of minority students on campus), we’ve accomplished something but we’ve still got a ways to go.”

“It was an intriguing message that we have made progress, but we’re still at a standstill,” Charda Tabb, freshman communications major, said. “It was very motivational.”