January 23, 2015
Students Aaron Mitchell and Aastha Gautam are inspired by King’s teachings of peace, hope and dedication to end inequality.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others.” – From Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King Jr.
The most Aaron Mitchell, 22, had learned about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during elementary school was watching the civil rights leader’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. But when Mitchell arrived at Ursinus, his classes and experiences sparked an interest in learning more about King’s legacy.
“I tried to place myself in his shoes,” said Mitchell, a senior who is majoring in Media and Communications. “He risked a lot… his own life, his family, his children. I contemplated that, the fight for justice was more important than himself, it was global.”
Much of what King inspired in terms of social protest is being used as a template for protests in the U.S. today, said Mitchell, a member of the first graduating class of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School. Although violence perpetrates a fear of the unknown, he said, King’s message of hope resonates.
“The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who instilled the teachings of peace, hope and love to people all around the world,” said Mitchell. “This holiday means a lot to me. It allows me to reflect on the amount of risk Dr. King took in order to make America a better place.”
Last year, Mitchell participated in a trip to Mississippi for a Religion & Civil Rights Movement class. “Learning about Freedom Summer and all the people who were involved in the movement was amazing,” said Mitchell, who was raised in Philadelphia and is minoring in African American and Africana Studies and Coaching. “The opportunity to meet activist Hollis Watkins was a great experience. That weeklong trip in Mississippi and Tennessee has given me an experience to remember for the rest of my life.”
Mitchell said he tries to maintain a focus on the accomplishments of Dr. King beyond the one recognized holiday. “As a tribute to the life and work of Dr. King, I don’t limit his legacy to only once a year,” says Mitchell. “I celebrate his legacy 365 days of the year.”
A Vision of Dedication and Hope
“Dr. King’s dedication and unrelenting hope for justice has unmistakably left an imprint within me,” said junior Aastha Gautam, who is from West Hartford, Conn. “Having a vision, accompanied by the paradigm of love and direct action, is no small feat at the face of stark adversity.”
King saw inequality as a fundamental and tragic flaw in society, Gautam said. “For me, he epitomizes what it means to live a life dedicated to justice. He dared to look and speak adamantly about the realistic nature of race, poverty, and injustice in America,” said Gautam, a Philosophy major with a minor in Africana Studies.
“Today, much of the same issues have not been eradicated. Yet, we have grown accustomed commemorate his legacy with complacency-infused volunteerism.” True justice, she said, goes beyond simply dedicating a few hours of volunteer service. “Dr. King embodied true justice which lies in the fearless actions influenced by the power of all-consuming love for one another. It is our duty to honor Dr. King’s legacy by transforming ourselves to walk the courageous life dedicated to justice and love, and to have hope that a day will come where injustice is finally eradicated and love finally becomes irrepressibly pervasive.”