Those who braved the darkness and cold on Jan. 22 to attend ONU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration were in for an unforgettable night. LaShonda Gurley,the University’s Director of Multicultural Development, took the stage first.

“As I sat down to prepare my opening statement”, she tells the crowd, “I thought of something from the heart. This is important. This. Is. Important.”

Gurley introduced the celebration’s guest speaker, Dr. Michael Benitez Jr., the dean of Ohio Diversity and Inclusion. Gurley listed off Dr. Benitez’s various publications and offices–a testament of his many accomplishments. Peeling off his red, backwards baseball cap, the man himself finally stood and took the stage.

His first words were, “Good evening everyone–that was dope!”

Dr. Benitez reminded the audience of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s  visit to Ohio Northern’s campus in 1968.

“Here we are celebrating Dr. King,” Benitez said. “How amazing that last year you had the opportunity to celebrate him when he was here 50 years ago. What I wouldn’t give to have had the opportunity to actually hang out with him–to hear him out, his words, his passions, which he had to deliver to crowds because he stood for something greater than himself. For justice, for equity, for words that they didn’t even know were going to be used today.”

After pointing out that we must remember those who paved the way for Dr. King, (Ida B Wells being an example) Dr. Benitez explained how he wished to celebrate this holiday–by passing on Dr. King’s legacy. He said Dr. King did not wait for a more relaxed time to act, and it is on the day we celebrate his life and work that we must remember that.

“We often think of struggle as bad, but struggle is good,” Benitez said.

Dr. Benitez stated that there is still much work to be done, especially in today’s political environment.

“If Dr. King were alive today, he’d be disappointed,or he’d be fighting because he was hopeful,” he said. “He’d be fighting and cultivating and organizing no different than ‘Black Lives Matter,’ no different than the ‘Me Too’ movement.”

The 60’s is often seen as a distant memory, but on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dr. Benitez reminded ONU’s students that their country is not “post-race,” and the best way to honor such a legend is to pick up his sword. Not tomorrow, not next week, but now.

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