Rev. Calvin O. Butts speaks during the Feb. 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Award Banquet. (Photo by Justin Knight)
"As brilliant as King was, he did not create the dream, he was a carrier of the dream," said Rev. Butts, president of the State University College of New York at Old Westbury and pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City. "The dream began in the heart and mind of God and was passed on to humanity."
A capacity crowd filled Welch Dining Room in Lyons Hall for the event, which was highlighted by the awarding of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship to Rufus L. Caine III '03, a philosophy and political science major eyeing a career as a civil rights attorney [see related story]. University President William P. Leahy, SJ, presented the scholarship, given annually to a junior whose achievements echo King's spirit. The scholarship covers 75 percent of the student's tuition for senior year.
In his remarks, which he delivered with verve and occasional humor, Rev. Butts likened King's dream to a baton in a relay race, passed on through time between ethnic groups as they have arrived in America and faced the difficulty of poverty and discrimination.
"Everybody has had to endure some type of discrimination," said Rev. Butts, recalling the bigotry faced by African Americans as well as the Irish, Italians, Poles and Jews. "That is why all of America came to attention when [King] spoke."
Rev. Butts said King's ideals serve as the founding principles of the Judeo-Christian religious traditions and are part of the foundation of the legal framework of the United States. Examples of King's dream can be found throughout Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament writings of the prophets, he said.
"The dream has been around for awhile," said Rev. Butts. "It is a continuous reminder of what God wants for creation."
He said Thomas Jefferson, "driven by the spirit of God," wrote those same ideals into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
"When we read 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal'... we know this nation has been working on that dream," said Rev. Butts. "We have tried to make the dream of Jefferson's more and more a reality every day."
Rev. Butts asked the students in attendance to dedicate their lives to working with the disadvantaged. "When you work for the poor, the dream becomes a reality for more."
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