Martin Luther King

Why We Honor Dr. King

By Eric F. Spina

Good morning! I’m thrilled to see so many here this morning for breakfast and reflections about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the greatest civil rights leader in our nation’s history.

Some might ask why is it so important for us as a nation and as a university community to pause and honor this singular man?

For one, young people didn’t live through the turmoil, the injustice and the pain of the civil rights era and only know Rev. King through the lens of history books and yearly commemorations.

Other people have forgotten the gross inequities and blatant discrimination that stained the fabric of our country in the 1950s and ‘60s.  Still others don’t want to hear that injustice even as it echoes today. The determination and the brilliance of Martin Luther King — and other civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks and including Congressman John Lewis — changed history. In the face of violence, hatred and legal challenges, they stood up against injustice and made a difference.

In some parts of our daily lives, the change is visible, while in other parts it is not. Racial and economic justice still elude too many Americans. Beyond racial tension and inequality, we see too many instances of discrimination on the basis of religion, ability, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status and country of origin.

When I walk past the magnificent and very fitting Martin Luther King Memorial on campus, I hear the echo of Dr. King’s words: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

That memorial is a visible reminder of our commitment to social justice. It’s a powerful reminder of our challenge: to bring people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives together in community to work for justice for all.

Just as the fight for equality and justice is an ongoing journey, so, too, is our challenge at the University of Dayton to create a more diverse, inclusive and welcoming campus. It requires our collective will, our collective action.

To help us on that path is a guide, a mentor, a trusted colleague.

Last spring we hired Dr. Larry Burnley as the University of Dayton’s inaugural vice president for diversity and inclusion, signaling our continued striving for justice and excellence. The University of Dayton’s values are the right values. We have many champions for diversity on our campus. But more progress is needed in changing the ethnic and racial make-up of our student body, faculty and staff to reflect the growing diversity of our nation and to become excellent. More progress is needed in cultivating positive changes in our campus culture to reflect our ideals.

Larry brings vast experience, a collaborative spirit and a can-do attitude. He’s a strong advocate who can help us all better understand how we can confront unconscious biases, improve cross-cultural dialogue, increase diversity in the classroom and prepare all students to succeed in a global economy.

Larry is an educator at heart. Beyond his tenure as the chief diversity officer at Whitworth University in Washington and, before that, at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, he taught African-American history.

Early in his life, he studied various religions and became an ordained minister. In addition to a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania and a bachelor’s degree in African-American studies from the University of Cincinnati, Larry holds a master’s of divinity degree from the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Beyond his impressive resume, he’s a man of passion, faith and dedication. I’m honored to introduce this morning’s speaker, and our dear friend, Dr. Larry Burnley.

For a story about Dr. Burnley's challenge to the campus community, click here.

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