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Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
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King's work for justice is not over

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Most would agree that many positive strides have been made in race relations during the last 50 years. But Dr. Wornie Reed, guest speaker at Monday's annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast, said the work is not over. He presented a call for more action that was fitting with the theme of this year's breakfast, "Moving Forward to Realize the Dream."

Dr. Reed offered more than just an assessment of Dr. King's contributions to the civil rights movement and to the country and why the work is not finished. He presented a very personal profile of a man he knew, a man he worked with during those days when bigotry in this country was blatantly manifested in laws and customs.

We are all familiar with much of Dr. King's work and famous speeches, and Dr. Reed reminded us that the leader was indeed a man with moving messages like the "I Have a Dream" speech. He has often been described as a man of peace as well, wanting everyone to live in harmony.

But he was also a man of action. In fact, Dr. King said that peace simply cannot be present if there is injustice. And someone must be brave enough to bring that injustice to the attention of everyone, and carry with it a message that it will not be tolerated. As Dr. Reed said, Dr. King was a man seeking justice, which has almost always been the case in the course of human history, and that quest often takes leaders down a path full of dangers.

Of course, Dr. King made the ultimate sacrifice fighting for justice, and he was well aware of those dangers. From bombings (Dr. King's home was bombed once) to being arrested and placed in jail to facing countless hate-filled faces, King embarked on a path that always requires a tremendous amount of courage and determination.

During those days of unrest and civil strife, changing society, and the customs and laws in place, was a huge challenge. But as Dr. Reed said, Dr. King was a man of inspiration, and people listened, and followed. Things did change.

Or did they?

A statement we often hear is that this country has made tremendous strides when it comes to race relations, prejudice and poverty. It's true that many laws and customs have changed and at least on the surface reflect a more tolerant and compassionate society. But Dr. Reed, who is a professor as well as director of sociology and Africana studies at the Center for Race and Social Policy at Virginia Tech, presented statistics from several studies that showed racial prejudice continues to be ingrained in society, and blacks are still treated differently in such areas as job promotion, pay and criminal penalties. A higher percentage also fall in the poverty category now.

Dr. Reed reminded everyone that if Dr. King were alive today, he would still be sending the message that the work to end injustice and poverty is not done, and action is needed by everyone to call attention to these problems and find solutions. Complacency is not an option now any more than it was in Dr. King's time.

As Dr. King said, "Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. .. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

 
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