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Dyson calls for us to "stretch it out" at MLK commemorative program

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Michael Eric Dyson

Starting powerfully with a video of a 1965 speech in Montgomery, Ala., popularly known as "How Long, Not Long," Radford University held its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Commemorative Program on Monday, April 7, in the Bondurant Auditorium.

Darius Cureton opened the program, titled "A Beloved Community: Advancing Social Change", with an interpretive dance to Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come." The program crescendoed when Michael Eric Dyson took the stage to explain in an intense and entertaining way how King's vision of a beloved community can be achieved. Dyson, named by Ebony magazine as one of the hundred most influential black Americans, is the author of 16 books, including "Holler if You Hear Me, Is Bill Cosby Right?" and "I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr."

Calling on the campus to "learn from a distinguished academic about Dr. King's enlightening vision," President Penelope W. Kyle, welcomed Dyson and over 300 RU students, faculty, staff and guests from the community.

"Let us leave here tonight empowered to make Dr. King's dream live for all and make our university one that values diversity and inclusion for all," said Kyle.

"Dr. King was the sui generis American, an American hero, who wanted an America built on equality," said Dyson, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University and a National Public Radio host. "King was a galvanizing leader who projected and articulated the ideals that guide our nation. He helped America become all it should be and tested the durability of the American Dream by inviting it to show it was serious."

In his 40-minute address, Dyson summoned the memories of American icons like the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Albert Einstein to illustrate the "beloved community."  Beloved community was a theme used often by King in speeches and sermons.

With lyrics from the Temptations, George Jones and Jay Z among others, he articulated the barriers to achieving it. In the process, Dyson challenged his listeners' cultural literacy as well as their stereotypes. "We have to combat our own bigotry, reject our stereotypes and believe everybody is simply a human being trying to exist and survive," he said.

Micheal Eric Dyson signs books

After his presentation at RU's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program, keynote speaker Michael Eric Dyson signs books on stage in the Bondurant Auditorium.

Using humor, sarcasm and a bit of righteous indignation, Dyson confronted a litany of barriers that stand in the way of truly achieving King's beloved community: economic inequality, racism, sexism, religious intolerance and discrimination against sexual orientation, disability or age.

"Dr. King's notion of a beloved community says we should all pitch in and help one another. We can stretch it out. A beloved community rests on the assumption that each citizen is valuable," he said.

Dyson's appearance was originally scheduled to cap RU's weeklong celebration in January of Dr. King's legacy and diversity, but was postponed due to inclement weather and travel complications. The event was sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Diversity Awareness Programming Board, Scholar-Citizen Initiative, McConnell Library and Men of Standards.

Crasha Townsend, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, closed the program, saying that the program was "a call to action for us to create a beloved community in our beloved community."

Apr 11, 2014