The University Record, January 28, 1997

'Take to heart the message of struggle and sacrifice,' Berry tells audience

Mary Frances Berry (at right), U-M alumna and chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, called for an individual commitment to a community of justice and the ideals to which Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life. She gave the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Symposium Jan. 20.

Photos by Bob Kalmbach

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services


While Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to be remembered as a "drum major for justice," he would not have expected us to protest or go to jail or give our lives for the causes for which he cared so deeply. But he would want us to commit ourselves, in any small way that we possibly can, to the ideals of equal opportunity and civil rights for all people.

This was the crux of the message delivered by Mary Frances Berry, U-M alumna and chair of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, during last week's MLK Memorial Lecture at Hill Auditorium.

"I believe it is not too much to ask that we take to heart the message of struggle and sacrifice exhibited in Martin Luther King's life," she said. "I would ask that each of you individually commit yourself, in whatever way you can, to the causes he cared about. I would ask each of you to agree every day for the rest of your life to do just one thing in the cause of social justice, just one thing---that would be enough.

"If you believe in praying, say a prayer everyday. If you believe in helping to feed the hungry, do so, but not just at Thanksgiving and Christmas. You might tutor a child or an illiterate adult. Do whatever you can. Do something, whatever it is, and do it every day, for our country's sake."

Berry said that while the nation has made great gains in civil rights since King's assassination nearly 30 years ago, "we should be somewhat embarrassed by the state of his unfinished agenda."

Weak enforcement of discrimination laws, assaults on affirmative action, inequitable welfare reform, inadequate health care, scarce educational resources, intolerable housing, insufficient job opportunities, rampant corporate greed and widespread worker exploitation are among the problems that still plague American society, she said.

We would not have to wonder what King, himself, would have done about these serious societal issues if he were alive today, Berry added.

"We must do like Martin Luther King," she said. "We must tell the truth, even if the times are inauspicious and even if we are made to suffer.

"So much miscommunication and unwillingness to deal with facts stands in the way of our implementing Martin Luther King's dream and creating a unified community of justice. This is a time for a re-commitment to struggle. It is a time to celebrate and remember and to be prepared to avoid betraying the cause of social justice, which would give aid and comfort to its erosion. We have a great deal ofwork to do."