NPR host speaks of importance of MLK's life lessons in annual celebration

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, whose theme this year was "Remember. Celebrate. Act." is in its 30th year, and featured the presentation of the Unsung Hero Awards.

The quest for racial equality in America is still far from complete, award-winning radio journalist and former ABC news correspondent Michele Norris told about 2,000 spectators gathered in the Carrier Dome on Sunday in celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Maybe this holiday can serve as a reminder to us, to always think about the lessons that his life provides.”
- Michele Norris

Norris, a host for National Public Radio, delivered the keynote address at Syracuse University’s 30th annual celebration of King and his achievements. In 2010, she created the Race Card Project and asked listeners to share their personal experiences with race in only six words.

After tens of thousands of submissions, Norris said the idea that Americans are living in a “post-racial” society is very questionable.

“We still have much work to do in this country, as great as we are, as great as it is, as much progress as we’ve made,” Norris said.

According to Syracuse University communications manger Kelly Rodoski, the school sold approximately 1,800 tickets for Sunday’s event, the largest University-sponsored program in the country celebrating King and his legacy in the fight for equal rights.

The evening included a dinner and featured performances by numerous musicians and dance troupes, including a routine by Young and Talented Performing Arts Kompany set to Michael Jackson’s 1987 hit song “Man in the Mirror.”

But the headlining speaker was Norris, whose speech closely mirrored the theme of this year’s event: “Remember. Celebrate. Act.” After thanking the Syracuse University community for recognizing the importance of King’s accomplishments each year, she shared her hope that more citizens will choose to live with the same determination and strength of character as he did.

“Maybe this holiday can serve as a reminder to us, to always think about the lessons that his life provides,” Norris said. “There was strife. There were struggles. There were disagreements, and every victory was met with setbacks.”

Aided by the Say What? student ensemble, Norris also shared samples from the Race Card Project. She and the students read past submissions in rapid-fire succession, drawing both laughs and applause from the audience. Empty cards at each table allowed attendants to write their own as well.

Sylvia Langford, the chairwoman of the 2015 Martin Luther King Celebration Committee, said that participation is at the heart of the continually growing event.

“The idea that a group of people can start off small and build it is just phenomenal,” Langford said. “Race is still an issue that we have not been able to solve in this country, and so dialogue and the Race Card Project are important. Very important.”

Four individuals who already answered Norris’ challenge were honored during the Unsung Hero Awards, which recognize those in the greater Syracuse community who have made a difference in the lives of others with little recognition.

Dajeveon Bellamy, Ronald James Terry Taylor, Mable Wilson and Karaline Rothwell each received a medal from SU senior Ashlee Newman and a certificate from SU Chancellor Kent Syverud for their service to youth and the homeless.

Robin Padilla, a Syracuse piano performance graduate student, manned the keys during a moving performance of “Deep River,” a spiritual song of African American origin. Although he was thrilled to be a part of the event, he also stressed the importance of spreading its message outside the Dome.

“It just makes me sick to see that America is a very backwards and racist country, but I think we’re getting there with an optimistic note,” Padilla said. “I think it will eventually reflect on people, but you just can’t snap your finger and say, ‘The world’s great. We’re not racist anymore.’”

Other students agreed that Norris’ call to action was a great reminder that each person has an obligation to treat others with fairness. This event was just a small example of what can happen when those words are put into practice.

“This is just a nice thing to see, so diverse and integrated, where we can discuss Martin Luther King’s legacy,” SU computer engineering junior Tyrone Charles said. “This is a privilege. This is my second year here, and it just keeps getting better and better.”

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