President Pastides’ remarks at the 2018 MLK Commemorative Breakfast

Oh happy day!  Good morning my friends, it’s good to see you. I so look forward to this event every year. It seems as though it is the defining moment when the new year actually begins.

Like you, I find inspiration in the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I need inspiration to fuel my work and to fuel my compassion.  And I am getting a lot of it this morning being here with all of you. 

I would like to recognize the President’s Advisory Committee, members of City Council and Country Council who join us today and the members of the MLK Commemorative Celebration Planning Committee.

It’s hard to imagine that it’s been fifty years since Dr. King last walked among us – leading with insight, teaching non-violence, agitating for change and with it a better life for his black, white, brown, Asian brothers and sisters, in other words for all of us.

He did all of this like Jesus, with love, saying, “Love is the only force capable of transforming our adversary into a friend.”  I still believe that, whether it is Korea, the Middle East, the streets of urban America, or Clemson/Carolina.  I have to practice what I preach! And I do ask myself, “Harris, can you lead with love today?” I don’t always answer right away — it’s harder to lead with love than anger.

 

Like you, I find inspiration in the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and I need inspiration to fuel my work and to fuel my compassion.

 

The 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death – takes us back to 1968, on the evening of April 4,  I was sitting on the floor at home watching Star Trek in our three room apartment in Queens. I distinctly remember the program was interrupted by a news bulletin announcing the assassination of Dr. King. 

My mother was at home and explained that Dr. King had gone to Memphis to lead the Sanitation Workers Strike – where he was representing all of the Sanitation worker – black, white, all. As an immigrant, my mother understood many of the struggles that were transpiring in the nation – I recall that she had tears in her eyes on April 4. It was a tragic day for the nation.

On doing some historical research – it’s uncanny how so many of today’s national issues mirror the critical issues of 1968 – even on our campus. 

Yes, the sixties ushered in a decade of profound change at USC. Desegregation had been achieved in 1963 by Henri Monteith Treadwell, Robert Anderson and James Solomon.  Still, all was not well. 

By 1968, the campus was experiencing unprecedented physical expansion – the Coliseum, Capstone, the Roost, plus academic advancement and an enormous enrollment growth. Carolina had grown to 13,000 students. Still, all was not well.

The sixties also brought with it a transformation of student culture, it might interest you to know that many of the speakers who had been invited to lecture on campuses across the nation were met with protest and shouting. Sound familiar?  There were racial incidents, a long-running war on foreign soil and political dissent.  All in America was not well.  

Today, we are also experiencing a profound change on campus – most of it very positive – physical expansion – a new school of law, a new health center, plans for a new student center and new student housing.  Yet all is not well.

Our academic advancement is rising on all fronts, USC is ranked as the top global university in South Carolina and also one of the top 27 public flagship universities in the nation. Forty-seven of our academic programs are highly ranked, several in No. 1 spots. Yet, all is not well.

America is still awash in conflict and ill-mannered debate. We face the real threat of war, terrorism, racism, gender inequality and economic disparity.  

No. All is not well, not hardly. 

I have promised, repeatedly, that the University of South Carolina will not run away from these problems. 

Indeed, we opened our new semester this week eager and excited. Our students were anxious to get back to their classes and their friends (maybe not in that order). So it was disheartening to discover that, as far as we can tell, a person decided to disrupt the joy of 30,000 students by placing racist flyers in two buildings on campus.

Disheartening and sickening but not surprising. There is evidence that the perpetrator was not from within our community. No surprise that someone would try to sow the seeds of rancor and divide a community like ours that stands exactly for the things that he does not.  But we will stand strong against assault whether it is from outside or from within. 

Wherever it may arise, we have the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to guide us. We have the rulebook. We shall not be deterred by a disruptive act based on hatred and ignorance. We shall not be weakened or frightened.  In the words of a powerful Negro spiritual, “We shall not be moved.”

 

I believe that we can always love more, listen more and agitate more for the university we aspire to be.

 

We have made too many great strides since Dr. Treadwell walked through the door at Osborne. We will never turn back.

Today, we are a national leader for improving graduation rates for minority students and rank as one of the top five flagship universities for closing the graduation gap between minority and white students over the past decade.

Our Collaborative on Racial Reconciliation and our new Center for Civil Rights History and Research, headed by Dr. Bobby Donaldson, is gearing up.

I continue to engage our students in small group discussions. One of my favorite events is “Dive-In luncheons” where our student bring their own ideas to promote unity and inclusion.

In fact, it was a group of students who advocated for the two new plaques commemorating the life and work of enslaved people who built many of the historic buildings on the Horseshoe.  These plaques have now been placed.  I would encourage you to take a walk on the Horseshoe to view both of them when you have a chance.  One is near the McKissick and the other near the President’s House.   

I’m also excited to share with you that the ground is being prepared for the installation of the Richard T. Greener statue which will be located next to the Thomas Cooper Library.  As you know, Professor Greener was the first African-American graduate of Harvard University and the first African-American professor at the University of South Carolina serving during the Reconstruction Era from 1873 through 1877.  The statue will be installed next month.  I hope that you can join us for this momentous occasion on February 21.

I believe that we can always love more, listen more and agitate more for the university we aspire to be. 

In closing, let me take moment to recognize the life of Civil Rights leader, The Rev. John Hurst Adams, who passed away on January 11.  A Columbia native, Rev. Adams was a powerful force for social justice and a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.  He was 90 years old, and will be greatly missed.

I can’t help but speculate what more may have transpired had Dr. King, who was assassinated at 39, had also lived to be 90.  

How would the world be different?  

So let us walk in their shoes, let us keep their song alive, and let us celebrate their lives lest we forget how different their walk was.  

Let’s walk in their shoes today and every day. Let’s walk, like them, without fear and with love.