MLK Day Speaker Encourages Students To Follow King’s legacy with involvement
The four most important words that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ever spoke were not, “I have a dream,” Teree Caldwell-Johnson told Simpson College students Monday.
“The four most important words that truly compel us to action are, ‘Now is the time.’”
Caldwell-Johnson, chair of the Des Moines School Board, was the keynote speaker at the college’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Observance in Smith Chapel.
“In my opinion, Dr. King is a true example of character, humility and selfless sacrifice that, in my opinion, is not only unparalleled but unmatched in my lifetime,” she said.
And he provided a path for today’s students to follow, she said.
“Yes, the rich are getting richer, but at the same time, the poor are getting poorer, while those in the middle are fighting to make it all work out,” she said. “As a country, we are at a crossroads, and the pressures on America are phenomenal.”
She challenged those in the audience to begin the “multitude of work that must be done to continually transform our communities and to make a different in those lives who need a hand out and a hand up.”
Caldwell-Johnson served as Polk County manager from 1996-2003. She currently is CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood and Oakridge Neighborhood Services, a housing and human services non-profit agency in Des Moines.
Often repeating the “Now is the time” theme, she said, “Now is the time for us to address the new challenges of the day.”
She referred to today’s technologically savvy students as, “Faced up, hooked up and Tweeted up.”
“You indeed have the tools and the distinct responsibility and obligation to effectively support the struggles of your contemporaries and the people in your communities, for their victories will make you stronger, and your victories will truly empower them,” she added.
Caldwell-Johnson said she believes that if King were addressing today’s Simpson students, he would offer four pieces of advice:
1. Promote peace, justice and freedom whenever possible.
2. Engage yourself in public-policy debates, and always vote. Progress “depends on our willingness as individuals to get involved and make a personal commitment to the struggle.”
3. Take action as if King were guiding you. “Make it your goal to give back to the world some of what you have received. I think they call that paying it forward.”
4. Mentor or tutor a young person.
“If we are to survive,” Caldwell-Johnson said, “it is incumbent on you, each and every one of you, to use your God-given time, talent and resources to make a difference.”
After the service, several Simpson students set out to do just that. They traveled to Des Moines to join other students and organizations as part of the MLK Day of Service event.
Students were expected to participate in four service projects:
- Creating tie blankets for Blank Children’s Hospital and local non-profit shelters.
- Assembling personal care kits for Lutheran World Relief.
- Constructing newspaper flooring for the Animal Rescue League of Iowa.
- Designing greeting cards for military veterans receiving treatment at the VA Central Health Care System in Des Moines.