Speaking at Lehigh’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Jan. 20 at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, Rev. Albert Paul Brinson, who was an intimate friend of King and his father, drew parallels between the situation King faced in the 1960's to the present day buildup toward war with Iraq.
"The Vietnam War was part of the demise of Dr. King," Brinson said. "My challenge to you, young people, is to remember Dr. King and not just stand idly by when wrong and injustices are being done … Right now is a critical time for our country, and your university is the place where all these ideas are generated and started. But I don't hear enough people saying, `This war is wrong.'"
Brinson was the featured speaker at the energizing and enlightening celebration, which drew a large crowd from the university and South Side community.
"All of us can love, all of us can reach out. It's up to you to do the things that make for peace," he exhorted.`A visionary, not a dreamer’
The night opened with a welcome and introduction from Pastor Edith B. Roberts, followed by a spoken selection by Safiya Jafari ’03, who said, "We're here to celebrate the life of a wonderful human being, not to equate him with civil rights."
Then came moving (literally--many in the audience stood up, dancing and clapping) choral selections by Lehigh’s Genesis Gospel Choir, setting a spiritual stage for Brinson's captivating speech.
"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of history's most classic and outstanding speeches--`I have a dream.’ But he wasn't a dreamer--he was a visionary," Brinson said. "His vision was that all of us would one day in this world live together as brothers and sisters."
Brinson talked in haunting detail about the segregation he and King both experienced. African Americans could not eat in many restaurants, but they could clean them or cook the food.
"We were educated, we were good students, we went to colleges, and because of these things we thought we would someday be accepted--but it took more than that," he said.
What it took was for Rosa Parks to refuse to get up from her bus seat and for King to lead the history-changing movement in Montgomery, Alabama that resulted from Parks' actions.
"Martin Luther King became the inspiration for 50,000 people in Montgomery to stay away from the buses, to walk to work," Brinson remembered. "We are here because Martin Luther King Jr. had the courage to be able to stand up for what he knew was right."
Keeping the spirit of King’s message alive, the Holmes Family Gospel Group followed Brinson’s speech with three engaging choral selections that again brought the audience to their feet.
The evening concluded with powerful words from graduate student Sarah Zurat. "If one man can unite a nation, we can unite a town and a campus," she said. "Vision. Strength. Hope. These qualities are in every one of us. Use them together, and you too can change the world."