Student: 'He set a path for us' Cooley community discusses race, politics on MLK Day

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Discrimination has been and always will be a part of the culture. But it's important for each of us to do what we can to keep the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. alive and moving forward.

That was the common sentiment at Monday's event marking MLK Day at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Ann Arbor campus, where a panel spoke about King's legacy, as well as politics and race as the country narrows the field of Republican challengers.

Cooley professor Philip Prygoski said he's old enough to remember King's speech, but only in recent years has he come to realize the brilliance of it.

"It's one of the most moving speeches in the history of the country," he said.

Noting the irony of Columbus discovering a country where there were already 10 million Native American inhabitants, he stressed how deeply ingrained discrimination is in the culture.

"Be vigilant, because it's there," he said.

Professor David Finnegan reminded the crowd of about 75 students and staff that racial tension transcends national boundaries, and that race has an impact on political and social life in many other countries, such as South Africa.

The panel agreed that some candidates have been guilty of racial insensitivities, as they realize African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democrat anyhow.

The Tea Party has taken the Republican Party to the far right, said Detroit attorney Solon Phillips.

"It's pretty brutal what they're doing to each other," he said.

Phillips noted that President Obama said his campaign will consist of getting a tape of what the Republicans have been saying, and playing it in a big loop. But there's some truth there, he said.

Professor Daniel Ray noted that Obama energized the Democrat Party in 2008, which led to a huge voter turnout. But he wonders if he can do the same this time around because a number of his supporters are disappointed that he did not keep all his promises.

Third year law student Brittny Johnson said she attended the forum to support the Black Law Student Association and to learn more about King.

Cooley students used to attend classes on the holiday.

"If we had to fight for it, I wanted to support MLK Day," she said. "It should be more than just a day off school and work. I don't want people to lose sight of the day."

Tamah Mathurin (2-L), said she is very grateful to King.

"He set a path for us,'' she said. ''He taught us to fight for our rights and what we believe in. I want to keep that legacy alive."

Justin Heiman (2-L) said that as much progress as race relations have made, there is still much to be done.

"I wanted to hear from the professors and lawyers here not just about lessons from the past, but suggestions for the future," he said. "For every great story, there is a story of injustice."

He recalled the time a few years ago when a mechanic used the "N" word in front of him.

Heiman got angry and reported the man to his boss.

"It was a reminder to me how far we have to go," Heiman said.

Published: Thu, Jan 19, 2012

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