Our country has a race problem; that is ever so clear in these tumultuous times. But what can we do to influence meaningful change? That is much harder to answer. In the spirit of celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his accomplishments, it is important to realize how relevant his message is and what our generation can do to address the racial strife occurring in the United States. His resounding impact on the very fabric of America, and the people he galvanized to spur meaningful change, is what made him a great leader. But he created the patchwork; it is on us to stitch together and mend the wounds that have for far too long torn us apart.
While legal racial discrimination and segregation has been disavowed, our nation ails with persistent issues associated with systematic disparities. This has become apparent more recently to the general public with the media’s attention towards police brutality cases and the like. While utterly disappointed in the handling of the Tamir Rice case on the part of the governmental structures, I am so proud of my fellow Clevelanders for protesting peacefully and harmoniously; this is especially true for the members of our Case Western Reserve University community who partook. I hope that we can start at the local level, here and elsewhere, to build the framework for a new time of transformation.
This change I speak of must start here, and right now, within our CWRU community. Just down our streets and less than a few miles away, there are rampant inequalities that occur and continue to occur. We have the privilege—yes, that’s right—to attend an amazing place of higher education. We must use this very fact and our devotion to academic scholarship to address these inequalities in creative and compassionate ways. We all have something to offer and I know we all have a voice. Start simple and build: choose a cause that you care about, strive to read one to two articles pertaining to current events, try to attend a sponsored event advertised around campus once a month, register to vote in the very important elections coming up and make a goal to participate in community service a few times this semester.
I’ve noticed a small, profoundly vibrant amount of activists seeking this very change on and off-campus. But I want to see more involvement, greater participation levels and more students taking full advantage of the amazing programs run by all of the great centers and offices at our university; a large concentration of these fall under the Division of Student Affairs. I see so many strong and powerful agents of progress on campus, but I know for sure that they would love for others to join in. For, in the words of King, “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
As I graduate and leave CWRU this year, I will remember what these wonderful peers—as well as the offices and staff who empower them, especially the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women, the LGBT Center, and the Center for Civic Engagement and Learning—have taught me. I will carry with me the toolbox I have developed to be an advocate for the oppressed and am committing to an impassioned life of seeking to better our world.
Will you do the same? I challenge you follow in the footsteps of King when he said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Let’s unite and dedicate ourselves to continue, and eventually recognize, King’s dream.
A graduating fourth-year student, Josh Lehrer has decided to do City Year next year to continue the pursuit of social justice. He had an inspiring and powerful experience at the PULSE Retreat last weekend.