CNN’s Roland Martin spoke in an on-campus event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Thursday night.
The event began with a choir performance and was followed by the reading of two winning essays in a fifth grade contest. The two young students spoke about their desires for change. While one elementary school student tackled the issue of inadequate healthcare, the second fifth grader spoke on an issue closer to the hearts of students everywhere: bullying. These speakers exemplify the lesson Martin believes everyone should take from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The lesson is why you can’t wait,” Martin said.
He spoke of how King was only 26 years old when he became involved in the civil rights movement. By the time King was 30 years old, college students were staging sit-ins all over the South. They brought the “vitality and vigor of youth; the passion, the emotions,” into the civil rights movement, Martin said. Many of them were as young as 19 years old.
Martin, who was at President Barack Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday, was proud of how the next generation of Americans will go through life understanding what it means to have a black president. While many comparisons are made between King and Obama, Martin abstains from doing so.
“I don’t make the comparison because you have two men in separate eras,” Martin said. “You have a political leader and a moral leader.”
Yet Martin went on to express similarities between the two men. Both called on the younger generation to act. Like King and other Civil Rights activists, Obama didn’t wait for permission to enact change, Martin said; he stood against the odds to become the first African American President.
Although pleased with what Obama’s election means for African Americans, Martin warned that the reality is unless the country addresses the issue of low African American male graduation rates, the likelihood of another African American president being elected in the future is slim.
“You have a decision today to commit to something, or this was all an exercise in futility,” Martin said.
Martin wanted the crowd to remember that the only way to honor either King or Obama was to sacrifice something for someone else.
“We have to choose to get to work,” he said. “[Do this, and] you’ll not only be talking change, you’ll be causing change.”