Martin Luther King honored at Thomas M. Cooley Law School

By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

"There are a lot of challenges today that Dr. King, if he were alive, would be (working on)," said Keith Boykin, opening his remarks to the audience of law students, lawyers, law professors and members of the public who came together to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held at Thomas M. Cooley Law School on January 18th.

"Stand up and speak truth to power."

"That's what Dr. King stood for. Change can happen once we open our minds to the possibility of change."

Boykin spoke of his days at Harvard Law when there was little diversity. "We (the law students) choose civil disobedience. We took over the Dean's office on three occasions. We decided we were law students fighting a legal academy, so why not take them to court? We argued the case all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court where we lost on the issue of standing--the court said we didn't have standing to raise the issue. We won in the court of public opinion." Harvard now has a diverse faculty as well as a diverse student population.

"If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got."

"That is the problem today. Those of us who are concerned about the challenges of our country have the responsibility to engage in that fight to make a difference for our country. In the same way that Dr. King was engaged in that process. There is a tendency to white wash what Dr. King believed in, but Dr. King was a radical, a revolutionary, a rabble rouser. He believed in creating a conflict. He believed in using the theater of non-violent confrontation to create a situation that would force people of power to do something."

"He believed in challenging all those isms out there beyond those that affected his own community. He fought for all people. Dr. King believed that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere. That means that we have to stand up against injustice against the people who don't have health insurance, who are union members, the Haitians who want to come to this country and enjoy the same rights to immigration that the Cubans have. We have to get out of the mentality that says my concerns are more important."

"Dr. King believed that love was the key."

"We don't believe in love. We engage in fear-based politics that tells us to fear one another. We are told to be afraid of anyone who wants to be different from what we want him to do. Fear-based politics keep people in a political state where they are divided amongst themselves."

"We must reject fear-based politics. We must stand up in our communities against those who stand in the way of progress. We must stand up against those who would use fear, the fear of terrorism, for example, as a justification for racial profiling."

Dr King believed that the ultimate measure of a man was dependent on where he stands in times of controversy. It is easy to take a popular position.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

"That means we have to be constantly engaged in the process of change at your own level. That is how change is made."

"We have to be thermostats, not just thermometers. A thermostat promotes change. It is time to heat things up in Michigan. In our country, we are in the process of making great social change. We must be engaged."

"Dr. King would finish his speeches with these words--'If you can't fly, run. If you can't run, walk. If you can't walk, crawl. But by all means: Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving."

Asked how to encourage activism, he responded that it doesn't take a lot of people to act. "I think there is a tendency to romanticize activism of the past. There is a tendency to think that when Dr. King was marching, there were hundreds of people. That is not so. It didn't take a large group. It took a small group of committed people."

If you want young people to be engaged, you have to figure out ways to make it appear that it is in their self-interest to motivate them. For example, the rising cost of college tuition could be an issue or the issue of the environment. You can make a difference by recruiting your classmates and peers.

Keith Boykin is the editor of The Daily Voice online news site, a CNBC contributor, a BET TV host and a New York Times best-selling author of three books.

Educated at Dartmouth and Harvard, Keith attended law school with President Barack Obama and served in the White House as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton.

Published: Fri, Jan 29, 2010

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