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January 6, 2011

View From Outside the Classroom

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Martin Luther King Jr. worked tirelessly to achieve a dream for which he ultimately sacrificed his life: That his children (who represented people of color and any person who was oppressed) would “be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.”

Delivered Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech capped a massive human rights march and was one of the defining moments in our nation’s history.  It forced our country not only to examine some hard truths, but to make changes for the betterment of individuals and society.

This event led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; since then, many other legislative and political “improvements” have occurred in our socioeconomic world.

But as we celebrate King’s birthday Jan. 17 — and here on the Pitt campus with a variety of events during the third week of January — each of us needs to look in the mirror and ask: “What am I doing personally to address the conditions King so passionately fought to improve?” and “What are we doing collectively to continue the battle against issues such as racism and lack of inclusion?”

All it takes is a drive through the city of Pittsburgh to see that our people and institutions are still struggling. Whether it is the derelict buildings that line the streets of various neighborhoods, news that another young life has been cut short due to gun violence or another family losing their home because they can’t find work and have been forced into foreclosure, serious challenges remain. Many people are still struggling to get on the bus. Sure, they can now sit in whatever seat they choose because of pioneers like Dr. King, but what if the route in their neighborhood gets eliminated? What do we do about the social injustices that remain?

MLK Day should be so much more than a day off from work. People often assume that this holiday is for African Americans, or for those directly impacted by civil rights legislation, when in reality all people share in the history and cultural legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. because he ultimately was concerned with how the world could be a better place for all persons. As King said: “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. … Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

This requires all of us to think and act beyond ourselves, to have genuine concern about our neighbors, to turn awareness into action. We need to become more passionate about issues such as health care, jobs, homelessness and children who read below their grade levels and the levels of their peers in more affluent communities. We need to break down barriers and debunk myths. We need to educate on LGBTQ issues in order to stop teen suicides caused by ignorance and bullying. In today’s economy, a lot of middle-class white people are going to food banks, so the myth that social services are for poor black people must be dispelled.

The staff at the Office of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development in the Division of Student Affairs facilitates programs for students, faculty and staff that not only demonstrate our passionate concern for all people, but also teach people how to build culturally diverse and inclusive communities.

As part of Pitt’s Martin Luther King Jr. Jan. 14-21 celebration week, “Becoming a Just Community,” we will be hosting events to help us achieve this. We welcome all students, faculty, staff and administrators to join us. For event details, call 648-9523.

The celebration begins with an interfaith service with musical groups and personal reflections on Dr. King’s legacy at Heinz Chapel Jan. 14 at 6 p.m.

On Jan. 17, the Black Action Society will host its annual Day of Service in the Pittsburgh community and invites everyone to join them as a way of honoring King’s spirit of service.

On Jan. 18, we will hear youth from Pitt’s Pursuing the Promise program reflect on how Martin Luther King Jr. has impacted their lives. That same day, the Campus Women’s Organization and the Student Allies Intergroup Dialogue will host a CommonGround work-shop to enable students to discuss the systems underlying all forms of injustice.

One of the highlights of the week takes place Jan. 20: We will hold a social justice symposium at the University Club titled, “Building a More Just Community:  From Awareness to Action.” The symposium will feature best-selling author and educator Tim Wise, who will lecture on overcoming racism and the legacy of white privilege. The symposium will include workshops and panel presentations from community leaders and organizations that are working to overcome inequality.

Finally, on Jan. 21, the annual Equipoise unity brunch will feature international arts leader André Kimo Stone Guess, president and CEO of the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Downtown Pittsburgh.

In addition to attending these events, we encourage all campus members to commit to the ongoing Dignity and Respect Campaign pledge drive (, sponsored by the Office of Affirmative Action, Diversity and Inclusion, to promote dignity, respect and inclusion.

We all truly need to understand that Martin Luther King Jr.’s work is ongoing, and now is the time to recommit our efforts to achieving his dream.


Linda Williams Moore is the director of Pitt’s Office of Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development.

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