Decades Later, Dr. King’s Message Still Powerful

Words and deeds of civil rights leader can provide guidance in challenging times, says Marquette professor

Mark Feldmann,

January 25, 2023

“What he said then can be used as a blueprint today. All of the things he wrote still resonate.”

Cedric Burrows Associate Professor, Marquette University

MILWAUKEE – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still matters. 

Perhaps now more than ever, according to Marquette University associate professor Cedric Burrows.

Burrows addressed nearly 200 Milwaukee Area Technical College students, administrators, faculty and staff on Friday, Jan. 20 at an event honoring King’s life and legacy hosted by MATC’s Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and the college’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

See photos from the event

King, the acclaimed civil rights leader assassinated in 1968, was much more than a simple dreamer, Burrows said. He was a visionary who predicted the challenges America would face when working to become truly integrated. 

“What he said then can be used as a blueprint today,” said Burrows, who teaches courses in writing, cultural rhetoric, African American rhetoric and culture, social movements and protest literature. “All of the things he wrote still resonate.”

True integration – not just de-segregation – means sharing power, having people speak for themselves without judgment, and perhaps creating a new societal structure in which everyone feels like they can participate, Burrows said.

“We can’t do business as usual,” Burrows said. And, as Burrows quoted King, “America, you must be born again.”

How King is viewed by history has changed over time, Burrows said.
For many years, King was depicted as an idealist and his speeches and writings were sanitized, Burrows said. Burrows presented side-by-side writings which showed how King’s pointedly anti-racist remarks struck the core of the civil rights movement. Later, his opposition to the Vietnam war and his proposals to alleviate poverty branded him as a radical, Burrows said.

Today, in a world altered by social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, and by the global COVID-19 pandemic, King’s speeches and writings can be guides to help society become truly more diverse, equitable and inclusive, Burrows said.

“It’s easy to bring people into a space,” Burrows said. “It’s harder to figure out how we make them feel like they belong in that space.”

Creating that sense of welcome is one of the goals of MATC’s Five-Year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan unveiled last spring.

“We’re the most diverse technical college in the state and we’re proud of that,” said MATC President Vicki J. Martin, Ph.D. at the event. “We need to make sure our students feel like they belong. We need to make sure we tell them that we are glad that they are here.”

To help accomplish that, people must call out racism when they see it – not just at marches or protests that provide opportunities for selfies and Facebook posts, said Burrows, who won Marquette’s Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Award in 2020.

“We need to make a career out of caring for each other,” said Dr. Martin, who as a young teacher often shared quotes from King with her students. “We need to look inside ourselves and think about how we treat each other. We need to keep moving forward and make his dreams a reality.”

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.