Bernice A. King Challenges Audience to Make Significant Contributions to the Freedom Struggle
March 1, 2013
Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center and daughter of the late Coretta Scott-King and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks before a packed house at Cheyney University's 176th Founder's Day in the Marian Anderson Music Center
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania faculty, staff, students, alumni, administrators,and friends came together for a powerful and inspirational 176th Founder's Day Celebration Friday, March 1, in Marian Anderson Music Center. Cheyney University's Concert Band, under the direction of Professor Allen Gardner, set the mood with a number of songs, while CU's Concert Choir, under the direction of Professor Marques L. A. Garrett, also performed beautifully.
Current Ms. Cheyney, Janelle McKelvey and CU's first Mr. Cheyney, William Walker, served as Mistress and Master of Ceremonies.
A dramatic point in the program came when Associate Professor of Theater Jann Ellis-Scruggs spoke passionately about her mentor, friend and spiritual advisor, Edythe Scott-Bagley, sister of the late Coretta Scott King. Ms. Bagley founded Cheyney University's Theater degree program and founded the Cheyney Players. Her husband, Arthur Bagley, also taught at CU.
In Edythe Bagley's honor, Professor Scruggs, along with current and former students, performed a very moving skit about Octavious Catto, a well-known educator who graduated from the Institute of Colored Youth, which eventually became Cheyney University. Catto became a martyr to racism in 1871 when Irish men shot and killed him in election-day violence in Philadelphia to prevent him from voting.
Following the skit, Bagley's niece, Bernice A. King, youngest daughter of Coretta Scott-King and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took to the stage. In her keynote address, Ms. King talked about the struggle for freedom, the non-violent civil rights movement and her mother, Coretta, the woman who walked beside the man who had the dream.
"We need more special women," King said, "who understand their calling and their purpose." Her mother, King insisted, helped ensure that her father stayed in the race. "She was his greatest advisor. She was prepared to stand beside him and to carry on without him." In fact, King said, in 1983, 20 years after the first March on Washington, D.C., "she kept his legacy of non-violence alive and legislation came out of that."
Today, in 2013, King said, "It feels like the clock is being turned back on us in many respects" because of disparities in terms of minorities, wealth, education, and even the criminal justice system.
It just goes to show, King said, that her mother was right when she said, "Struggling is a never-ending problem. Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation."
King told the crowd that "unfortunately, this generation is dangerously close to being the first generation that has not made significant contributions to the freedom struggle" because we are too lax, too comfortable, resting on our laurels and "a sense of entitlement has emerged." In order to move forward, she said, we must "preserve and protect things, forge straight ahead, don't miss a beat. Be vigilant, focused, determined to ensure that we continue to progress and not digress."
King suggested that things are going wrong in this world because we "don't understand that the freedoms we achieved were not guaranteed. Each generation had to be vigilant to keep it alive and add their contributions to the freedom struggle."
While we have had many moments, accomplishments, and achievements that we can applaud in the last 50 years, King admitted, "there's a difference between a moment and a movement. A movement does not happen until there's a concerted, consistent, collective and coordinated effort."
King emphasized the importance of serving others and not being self-served. She also said that true leadership requires that the individuals have loyalty, truth, justice, and freedom.
King's impassioned plea came in the very end. "Don't leave without making significant contributions to the freedom struggle," she begged. "Remember the woman who walked beside him (MLK, Jr.). She had an extraordinary legacy."
Following King's speech, Cheyney University President Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital and Vice President for University Advancement and External Relations Nancy L. Jones presented the Clarence Schock Foundation with the 2013 Excellence in Foundation Strategic Giving Award. The Foundation, a stalwart supporter of CU students through scholarships, provided an additional $250,000 to CU to create an endowed scholarship.
UPS, also a supporter of our students by giving $50,000 to name the conference room in the new residence hall, the UPS Conference Room, received the 2013 Excellence in Corporate Philanthropy Award. The $50,000 will go to scholarships for CU students.
The 2013 Spirit of 1837 Award, in honor of the late Bayard Rustin, former CU student and organizer of the historic "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom", went to Dr. Lut Nero, Dean of the Leslie Pinckney Hill Library and to Dr. Margaret Chisholm, Lecturer in Legal Research at Yale University Law School and representative of the estate of Bayard Rustin.
King stayed to sign authographed copies of Bagley's book Desert Rose: The Life and Legacy of Coretta Scott King – an intimate biography of her sister and her life with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Bagley's son, Arturo, signed copies beside his cousin.
A reception followed in Carnegie Hall, with the Gospel Choir performing throughout the evening, under the direction of Curtis Word.