Last Thursday (Jan. 19) was the 1st Tennessee Tech Martin Luther King, Jr. Candlelight Vigil. The event was organized by student activities coordinator Lakeisha Claybrooks and hosted by student engagement director Charria Campbell. I was one of several people invited to speak briefly. Other speakers were Krystal Akehinmi and Arthur Banton (both, like me, from the history department), Helen Hunt, Andrew Smith, and Erin Hoover (all from the English department), and three students: Mark Rine (biology grad student and president of the campus NAACP), Na’Quaija Gaines (criminology), and Kelley Fluker (mechanical engineering).
For my column this week I am sharing the speech I gave:
“Hello, I am Troy Smith, from the History Department. I was born in July 1968, three months after the assassination of Dr. King… he has been my hero pretty much my entire life, so it is indeed an honor for me to be here tonight and be part of this event.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Now, when people hear Ebenezer, they think of Scrooge... but Ebenezer is a place in the Bible. It is the spot at which, after God had given His people a great victory, the prophet Samuel set up a memorial stone to mark that day. Ebenezer literally means ‘Stone of Help.’ And when Samuel sanctified that stone, he said, ‘We have come this far by God’s help.’ Yes, friends, it is appropriate to memorialize the victories that God has given us and the people He has sent to help us. That’s one of the things I love about Dr. King. He knew and honored the past. He acknowledged he stood on the shoulders of giants. People like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, both of whom Dr. King brought into his actions. He didn’t leave them in the past, any more than we leave him in the past. We honor him and what he stood for and all those who came before him and after him, too.
In Dr. King’s day, he was vilified as an agitator, as a troublemaker. And yet, this week there are some people out there - often the very people putting stumbling blocks into the path of those still working for dignity and freedom - who say ‘God Bless Martin Luther King. At least HE wasn’t an agitator.’ Well, they weren’t paying attention.
What is agitation? That word does not mean ‘violence.’ I found three definitions.
There you have it, friends. You can’t make something clean without agitation. You can’t cause change without making someone troubled and nervous. And we honor Dr. King for doing that. But we don’t just set up a memorial stone and just stop. We’ve come THIS FAR with God’s help. But we are NOT THERE YET. We have to keep moving forward.
The other day, I heard the Rev. Al Sharpton say ‘Martin Luther King Day is not a day to take off. It is a day to take ON.’ To take on the inequity that is still there. So, let us set our Ebenezer, let us memorialize those God has used, and then let us move forward - because it is our turn, our turn to agitate until the stain is finally gone.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.
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