The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Banquet featured remarks from Rev. Michael Haynes, pastor of Boston's Twelfth Baptist Church and a friend of King's. He recalled several of his memorable encounters with the civil rights leader and urged those in attendance to remember King's legacy.
Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship winner Simeon Buresch '98 is flanked by the banquet's keynote speaker, Rev. Michael Haynes, and University President William P. Leahy, SJ, at Tuesday's event. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
University President William P. Leahy, SJ, said that legacy must reach all corners of the Boston College campus, where racial insensitivity still can be found.
Haynes recalled growing up in Boston's ethnically mixed Roxbury Crossing neighborhood in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and his travels through the South during the 1950s, when he was refused service in whites-only restaurants. He remembered a boyhood acquaintance who lived next to the Twelfth Baptist Church who had similar experiences and would later become famous as Louis Farrakhan. But for most of his remarks, he recalled the man from Atlanta who preached at the Twelfth Baptist Church, where Rev. Haynes directed the choir, while a graduate student in Boston.
"He was already a preacher, already an ordained minister when he got to Boston. He was already ahead of many, including myself, although I was two years older. We developed a special brotherhood relationship."
Rev. Haynes said King had an abiding interest in young people. "He was concerned about the racial structure in America that was allowing a whole generation of young people to be destroyed," Rev. Haynes said. "He said that a lot of the negative things that happened [to young people] in our neighborhoods were the result of the milieu, the environment, they grew up in."
As a black Southerner studying for his doctorate in Boston, King "certainly was interested in breaking down academic barriers and he certainly would have been interested in this gathering."
King also was concerned about America, Rev. Haynes said. "He loved America and because he loved it, he criticized some of the ills of this country." Ultimately, Rev. Haynes said, King's criticism extended beyond civil rights.
Rev. Haynes recalled King's final visit to Boston, where, after a speech at the Ford Hall Forum, he drove the then-controversial civil rights leader to the airport without benefit of police escort or bodyguards.
"In the car, he talked about two things. He talked about how he knew his days were numbered and he talked about the fact that a lot of people were angry he had spoken out against the Vietnam War.
"He said, 'Sooner or later, I'm going to die and I can't step away from that reality.'"
Despite his premonition, King chose not to retire to the sidelines, Rev. Haynes said. He remembered King saying, "If America doesn't work for black people, it's not going to work for anyone else."
King's commitment, he said, changed American society, a fact which became clear to him on a recent trip to North Carolina.
"I stayed in a motel that, in the 1950s, I could not have stayed in," Rev. Haynes said. "I was served by a white waitress and the owner came over to talk with me. I was glad things had changed."
Prior to awarding the MLK Scholarship to one of four finalists, Fr. Leahy said, "Tonight, we recognize four individuals for their achievement, dedication and generosity. They provide us with examples and signs of hope.
"But this dinner is also an occasion for us to be challenged. You know better than I that the Boston College community does many wonderful things. But this is not the promised land and it's not a perfect place. At times, there is insensitivity and racism on this campus, and that is not acceptable," Fr. Leahy said.
"We have the opportunity to strive toward the goal of creating a truly just and compassionate community. Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent, a time for reflection. Whatever your religious beliefs, we can keep the spirit of Martin Luther King alive if we take time during Lent to reflect on our actions and words, and ask how we measure up to the Judeo-Christian ideal of doing to others as we would have done to ourselves.
"I hope that we will go forward with renewed commitment to making the world a more just and compassionate place."
Fr. Leahy then presented the scholarship to junior Simeon Buresch, who is majoring in English and minoring in secondary education. Buresch, a Dean's List student, is an actor who has participated in several productions at BC and elsewhere. For the past two summers, he has volunteered with St. Louis University's Community Youth Advisory Board, which aims to interest young African-Americans in attending college and improve their academic skills so they will succeed there. The scholarship provides 75 percent of senior-year tuition.
Also at the dinner, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Committee presented a special award to Learning to Learn Director Dan Bunch in recognition of his service to the committee and to diversity efforts inside and outside the University.
Following the invocation by University Chaplain Richard Cleary, SJ, the Voices of Imani choir performed several selections.
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