The realization of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “dream” speech was the topic of discussion Thursday during the year’s first Project Pericles forum at Hendrix College.
Project Pericles is a not-for-profit organization that encourages and facilitates commitments by colleges and universities to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs.
The discussion, held over the noon hour in the school’s student life center, was led by Dr. Alice Hines, distinguished professor of English and was facilitated by Lisa Leitz, the school’s Project Pericles director.
Hines has been with the college since 1981. In August 1963, Hines was on her way to Atlanta to attend Spelman College. She said she watched King’s speech on a black and white television with her parents.
On Wednesday, as Hines watched media coverage of the 50th anniversary of the event, she admitted to experiencing moments of raw emotion as she weighed the “polarizing” media reports and all that had happened in the years following the march.
“I’m not sure where we are now, and I think perhaps we ought to think about that,” she told participants.
Hines said in 1963, she wouldn’t have been allowed to teach at Hendrix College, a school she says is located “right in the heart of the black neighborhood in Conway, Arkansas.”
“So some things have changed,” she said. “But I’m interested in trying to assess whether there has been real change, or if the change has been mostly cosmetic ... or political.”
Jim Wiltgen, dean of students, commented that locally, of the many who attend the city’s annual MLK celebration at the library, there are “people who are invested and people who aren’t.”
“The people who stay ... I’ll just say it — the color changes,” he said.
Economics plays a role in society’s ongoing racial issues, Hines asserted, adding, “Money still talks in America.”
Ongoing polarization is another problem, she said. “Our structure is still so polarized. We live in little cells and we operate in cells ... so ‘I’ve got to be with my folk and you’ve got to be with your folk, and we have to do what we do as separate groups.’”
Achieving Dr. King’s dream is not an insurmountable task, Hines said. “But I don’t think we are willing to surmount it, that’s where I think the problem really is.”
Reaching across racial boundaries to understand and accept one another, and creating new discourse on the rights and responsibilities of the country are good steps in the right direction, she said.
The essential point, she says, is saving a country that is decent and humane.
“The larger fabric of this country is in danger. I think we need to spend some time trying to understand what it takes to save this country and we haven’t had that discussion,” Hines said. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but I think we must agree on the vital things or else there won’t be an America for (our) children. We won’t have to worry about that at all.”
Her hope, Hines said, is in prayer.
Project Pericles hosts weekly forums on current events beginning at 12:10 p.m. each Thursday in Campbell dining room in the Student Life and Technology Center. Next week, the group will take on the ongoing issues in Syria. In two weeks, the discussion will center around the popular television series “Breaking Bad.” All forums are open to the public.