Tuesday January 31, 2006

An Icon For Our Generation

Coretta Scott King, who made one of her final public speaking engagements at the University of Dayton, is being remembered on campus for her graciousness, quiet strength and legacy as a human rights activist.

"She was an icon of dignity and grace for our generation."

That's how Lynnette Heard, executive director of the president's office at the University of Dayton, describes the late Coretta Scott King, who made one of her last public speaking engagements on campus last March as part of UD's Diversity Lecture Series and Annie T. Thornton Women's Leadership Conference.

King, who suffered a stroke and heart attack in August, has died at the age of 78. For a half century on the world stage, King carried the message of social justice and peace and led an exemplary life devoted to human rights. She's being remembered at the University of Dayton for her graciousness and quiet strength.

"Right now, I'm incredibly sad," said Debra Monk, director of community standards and civility at UD who helped organize King's speaking engagement, which drew a racially diverse crowd of more than 3,000 in the Thomas J. Frericks Athletics and Convocation Center on March 5. "I plan to tell my grandchildren that I personally met her. We had to have such tight security when she was on campus because people just wanted to touch her. To know that she had that kind of impact on our campus is amazing."

Julius Amin, professor and chair of the history department, called King "a gracious woman not aware of her own greatness.

"She was more than a civil rights activist. She was a human rights activist. She spoke for every person, not just blacks," said Amin, who teaches courses in black history and coordinates the Africana studies program at UD. "She tried to help America fulfill its democratic spirit. That's her legacy."

In a speech interrupted often by applause, King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., urged health care reform and gender parity during her campus talk. She called her husband's philosophy of nonviolence "the family value I am most concerned about promoting.

"I'm not talking only about stopping child and spouse abuse. Nonviolence means much more than that," she said. "Nonviolence is not just about behavior. It's about attitude, the way we treat each other and speak to each other, the way we look out for each other."

She offered a special message to parents. "I do fear that, with the number of broken homes headed by one exhausted single parent rising so dramatically in recent years, too many young people are growing up without much training in values like compassion, kindness and sharing," King said. "Some young people become vulnerable to the values taught by our increasingly toxic culture, such as greed, narcissism and glorification of violence."

Since her husband's assassination in 1968, King devoted much of her energy to developing the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to the civil rights leader's life and dream. As founding president, chair and CEO, she dedicated herself to providing training for tens of thousands of people in King's philosophy and methods. She led goodwill missions to Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia, spoke at many of history's most massive peace and justice rallies and lent her support to democracy movements worldwide.

"She carried on Martin's dream in so many ways," said Heard, who first met her in 1980 when she organized a news conference at the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority's national convention in Atlanta. "Hopefully, we can use her life as an inspiration to continue the University of Dayton's work in social justice. Her life had a meaning. She truly was one who changed the world — hand in hand with Martin."

Contact Lynnette Heard at (937) 229-4122; Debra Monk at (937) 229-4627; and Julius Amin at (937) 229-4324.