By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Martin Luther King Jr. was just a teenager when he penned “The Purpose of Education” as an undergraduate student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia.
In the 1947 essay, which appeared in the campus newspaper, King contends that the purpose of education is two-fold. It must develop students’ intellect and critical thinking, as well as their character and morals.
“We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education,” King wrote. “The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.”
King embodied these words throughout his life, serving as a social activist, Baptist minister and civil rights leader from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. He sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and victims of injustice and used peaceful protest to help bring about landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
On Monday, members of the University of Nebraska at Kearney community and their families gathered near the Bell Tower on campus to honor King’s life and legacy and spread his message of peace and equality.
“This is a day when we all take a moment to reflect on the contributions of a man who I feel has put the country on a trajectory that will always bend toward justice, freedom and caring for one another,” said Dean of Student Affairs Gilbert Hinga.
Although campus was closed for the federal holiday and most students don’t return from winter break until next week, nearly 50 people attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event, which was conducted with COVID-19 protocol in place. Chancellor Doug Kristensen and Senior Adviser to the Chancellor for Executive Affairs John Falconer spoke during the ceremony.
Hinga was pleased to see the turnout on a chilly January day.
“In a world where there’s so much division right now, we need to remember that this country was founded on the principles of freedom and justice,” he said. “Moments like this are ones that we need to commemorate.”
For UNK sophomore Isabelle Short of Omaha, the event was an opportunity to reflect on the country’s history and think about its future.
“We’re still working toward the same things Dr. King was working toward during the civil rights movement,” she said. “It takes constant work for things to change and for a difference to be made.”
As a college student, Short said it’s important to use her voice to advocate for those who continue to face inequality. As a future teacher, the elementary education major knows she has an opportunity to spread this message to the next generation.
“I want to teach them about every aspect of history and how a lot of groups are still marginalized and still fighting for their rights and show students they can help with those movements,” Short said.
In a 1964 address at Oberlin College in Ohio, his second public appearance after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, King told students, “The time is always right to do what’s right.”
Falconer expanded on that message Monday.
“If you’re going to stand for what’s right, you have to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” he said.
“We all need to acknowledge that everyone matters,” Falconer added. “There isn’t an ‘us’ and a ‘them.’ There’s just an ‘us.’”
Falconer, who organized the MLK Day event, believes King’s essay on “The Purpose of Education” remains as true today as it was when written.
“UNK is a place of ideas where young people are learning and developing their own sense of values,” he said. “If we don’t engage in these conversations, then we’re not helping them develop those values as they go forward.”