In her keynote speech, award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien challenged the audience to draw upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and apply it to obstacles they face today.
O’Brien, a producer as well as a news anchor, spoke on Tuesday night at the 36th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Memorial Hall.
Rumay Alexander, the interim chief diversity officer, started the event with opening remarks about the MLK Initiative for UNC Diversity and MLK’s legacy.
“Today’s event is part of UNC’s initiative to promote diversity across campus,” Alexander said. “Our chancellor, Chancellor (Carol) Folt, Provost James Dean — like MLK — were all originals and are worth learning from.”
O’Brien shared her own stories and documentaries, including examples of racial separation and her experiences during Sept. 11, 2001.
Keeping with this year’s MLK celebration theme: “Keeping the Faith: A Call to Press On,” O’Brien said she intended to focus her speech on the role of the individual.
“I enjoy the opportunity to remind people the actual words of Dr. King’s speeches,” O’Brien said. “This is a good opportunity to show what MLK has to say.”
O’Brien began her celebration speech by clearing up a common misconception about Martin Luther King Jr.
“Dr. King’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech was originally called ‘Normalcy Never Again,’” O’Brien said. “We like to remember MLK as a comfortable, kumbaya person, but he was actually a fiery person.”
She emphasized the importance of not whitewashing and watering down who Martin Luther King Jr. was.
“We cannot let time temper who MLK was,” O’Brien said. “It’s an easy thing to do.”
She said every year, around this time, she rereads and analyzes King’s speeches as inspiration for her talks.
“His speeches are tough and not as palatable as they’re perceived to be now,” O’Brien said. “We need to remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches are not about stealing a phrase here or there.”
While preparing for this talk, O’Brien said this topic resonates the most with our society, especially regarding the current social and political climate.
“We want to create a country that works for all people,” O’Brien said. “Dr. King reminds us our country doesn’t work without work, struggle and sacrifice.”
Using a speech King gave at New York University in the 1960s, O’Brien said she hopes to inspire college youth to to argue back, hold people accountable, not flinch when talking about a controversial subject and call people out when they lie.
“Dr. King was just a regular person who made the decision to do great things, and that means that there is an opportunity for all of us to do the same thing,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien concluded her lecture by challenging the audience to ask themselves what their responsibility is as an individual.
Letitia Davison, an attendee of the lecture, said she was breathless and inspired after hearing O’Brien’s speech.
“It’s wonderful to have someone like (O’Brien) in our world, as a woman, as a minority, that can make us all come together,” Davison said. “She did a great job.”
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