Michael Eric Dyson Shared MLK’s Legacy and the Challenge

Difficult Topic Presented with Gravity and Humor

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson shared historical events, current political tales and personal stories – speaking seriously and humorously, almost simultaneously, to a diverse crowd of more than 500.

And, he threw in a little hip-hop lingo for the young members of the audience.

Described as a prolific orator, a “lethal and laser-like” analyst and an inspirational minister, Dyson confirmed all of these descriptors.

UMKC sophomore Krystian Swinton introduced Dyson, the keynote speaker at the University of Missouri-Kansas City MLK Keynote Lecture in the Student Union on Wednesday, Jan. 30. Dyson spoke softly when thanking the student, complimenting her on a job well done.

“Thank you to my sister, Krystian, and to Dean Wanda Blanchett for training such a talented student,” said Dyson. Swinton is in the School of Education IUE program, where Blanchett is dean.

Dyson is a columnist, political analyst, author and professor of sociology at Georgetown University. As one of the nation’s leading King scholars, known for his ability to reach diverse audiences, he was chosen to present the MLK Keynote on race relations and King’s legacy.

When speaking about Dr. King, Dyson shared humorous tales about the person, but serious details about King’s life prior to his death.

“Dr. Dyson pulls back the curtain on America’s past and present inequities and reminds us that the work Dr. King and so many others began is still required – and still undone,” said Karen Dace, Ph.D., deputy chancellor of the Division of Diversity, Access and Equity, sponsors of the lecture.

“While some have mythologized the Civil Rights movement and forgotten the violent end for Dr. King, it is this mythology that numbs us, quiets us and works against our resolve to create a more just society,” said Dace.

Moving to his fiery, eloquent voice – sometimes softened for effect – Dyson told the audience that upon autopsy after his murder at the age of 39, King’s heart was that of a man age 65, due to the stress of fighting for justice and the constant threats on his life,.

When he talked about the state of race relations in America, Dyson said if he had a title, it would be “MLK: A Living Legacy, an American Radical.”

“Dr. King answered the knock on his door to serve, he challenged the system – the way things normally worked,” said Dyson. “King wanted justice for everyone, not just charity; and he challenged the distribution of wealth. He and so many others staged “sit-ins” and supported freedom riders and bus strikes. King was talking radical transformation.”

Dyson challenged the audience to carry on King’s often unspoken legacy of fair pay, a more equitable distribution of wealth and an expansion of “horizons of equal rights to include others” – not just the legacy of the acceptable and highly quoted “I Have a Dream” speech.

He concluded his almost two-hour, inspiring lecture by saying that King’s core message, as well as his motivator, was love.

“King was motivated to his core by an ethic of love,” said Dyson. “We too must be willing to sacrifice and die for our commitment to serve – and to save – others.”

Photo Credit: Janet Rogers

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