COLCHESTER, Vt. – Rev. Dr. Jonathan Lee Walton, a Harvard professor, delivered a passionate keynote address at Saint Michael’s College Monday to mark the beginning of the school’s 27th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation Week.
“How do you wake up those who are unsure about the violence of poverty and extreme economic inequality in this nation?” Walton asked the crowd. “How do you wake up those who are indifferent about the affects of bias and bigotry in our world?”
Walton detailed how Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equality has impacted America today and called for activism over passivity.
“You and I have to have the moral conscience and courage to open our mouths when we see injustice,” Walton said. “We’ve got to open our hearts when we see inequality, we have to have the courage to call a wrong a wrong.”
While preaching for Americans to be more considerate and helpful toward one another, Walton also acknowledged that many don’t have the moral conscience to stand up for others.
“Why is it that we feel better about ourselves when we’re able to put somebody else down?” Walton asked. “Why is it that we’re able to affirm our own humanity while dehumanizing someone else?”
Walton also criticized how Martin Luther King Jr. is often portrayed in classrooms today, saying a ‘sanitized’ or ‘colorblind’ Dr. King doesn’t reflect his legacy or message.
“In doing that, we take King out of the clutches of his theological framework and his radical orientation, and we turn him into some sort of American Easter bunny,” Walton said.
Instead, he said Dr. King should be remembered for what firghtened his critics – he brought together different coalitions for a common good.
“When he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, when he was organizing with the National Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez. When he was organizing poor whites from Appalachia,” Walton said.
He closed with a message of unity, and what he believes is Dr. King’s true message.
“We can either live together as siblings, or as this dear brother taught us, we’re going to die together as fools.”
There are several more events scheduled throughout the week at Saint Michael’s College as part of their 27th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation Week. For a full list, visit their website.