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Rev. Bernice King presents Chamberlin Lecture

February 11, 2002

  • Above: Rev. Bernice King talks with a student at a reception and book signing following her lectu...
    Above: Rev. Bernice King talks with a student at a reception and book signing following her lecture. Her most recent book is Hard Questions, Heart Answers.

The Reverend Bernice King, youngest daughter of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., presented the 2001 Chamberlin Lecture, “Disturbing the Comfortable: Creating Social Change That Lasts,” in October, almost 40 years to the day after her father spoke at the College about the future of integration.

Rev. King currently serves on the staff of the 1,500-member Greater Rising Star Baptist Church in Atlanta. She began her oratorical journey at age 17, when she spoke in her mother’s stead at the United Nations. “She has literally traveled the world speaking her mind, disturbing the comfortable, and challenging her audiences to ‘start doing those things that lead to a more sacred society,’” said Mark Duntley, dean of the chapel, in his introduction.

King told audience members that Americans need a paradigm shift, a change in focus from head to heart.

“The greatest ally of social change is love translated into action,” she said. “The greatest enemies of social change are selfishness, greed, materialism, arrogance, and elitism. The greatest challenge is overcoming apathy and indifference.

“You may not be able to do a thing with anybody else. But you can do something with yourself. When you change, you affect others and create a domino effect that will bring the world back together. It all starts with you.”

 

Rev. King’s lecture speaks to my experience

by Paloma Gonzalez ’04

 

I still remember the day when my Inventing America class came to a voiced consensus that racism was an issue of the past. I was dumbfounded! We were studying Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and somehow, the class got so lost within Ellison’s rich literary expressions that it could not address the disturbing meaning of his words.

Listening to the Reverend Bernice King speak about creating lasting social change was a completely different experience. She presented racism on such an honest level that many of us in the audience felt uncomfortable.

King called the racism that existed in the 1960s less dangerous because it was so overt that society could not ignore it. Today, the racial hierarchy that lingers in our “progressive society” is so complex and intricately embedded in our social fabric that it is often more convenient to look past it than to try to address it.

It is in our education system that one can best see that racial divisions continue to exist in our society. At any high school during lunchtime, different races congregate within their circles of comfort. There are always several students outside of their circles, but they stick out like sore thumbs.

I happened to be one of those students.

I went to a high school in an affluent San Diego suburb. Because of a special outreach program, my school bused in almost 50 percent of its students, most of whom were Latinos. The school offered three academic tracks: Advanced Placement or “AP” for highly motivated students, “Advanced” for average students, and “Regular” for Latino and African-American students.

By some miracle, the school placed me in the upper track, and consequently, I never interacted with another Latino student except during physical education classes. In our everyday lives, we may not encounter signs that say “white students here” and “colored students there,” but to pretend that those divisions don’t exist in our minds and our institutions is to ignore the complex racial hierarchy that continues to exist in our society.

Rev. King argues that the process of desegregating our society must begin within the institutions responsible for shaping the minds of upcoming generations: our schools. I agree with her wholeheartedly.

The first step is to eradicate the misconception that our schools are integrated and that all students have equal access to education. From there, we can bring to light the uncomfortable topic of the pervasive level of racism that still exists. However, racism should not be discussed only in our courthouses and on the floors of Congress, where legal jargon and politics get in the way of the core conflict. What is lacking is a genuine discussion of racism at the personal level.

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Lewis & Clark College in 1961, he reminded us that “we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.” Forty years later, his youngest daughter leaves us with the same message. Clearly, the cry for social equality that Ellison expressed in Invisible Man is still applicable today and still needs desperately to be addressed.

 

Paloma Gonzalez, a member of the Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Society of Fellows, plans to major in international affairs. 

 

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