A gray-haired white college professor from Kansas spoke about a civil rights protest march down Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
A young professional in construction management spoke of the emotional visit to a balcony in Memphis, the site of an assassination.
Catholic high school students and their teachers spoke of social and economic justice.
And a grocery store manager of an Iowa-based company recited passages of inspiring civil rights speeches from five decades ago.
All offered a story at the Martin Luther King Jr. event last week in Mankato. It’s one of the longest-running events of its kind in the state, having been established the year before King’s birthday became a federal holiday.
It’s an event I’ve come to attend over the years as a member of the organizing committee, but also one where I’ve found you can see very different people coming together to talk about an under-appreciated idea for change in the American system: justice through nonviolence.
We’ve got plenty of justice through violence. We can kill people we don’t like at will and with ease. But it’s tough to change things with the strength of nonviolence.
It’s a concept we don’t tend to think about more than once a year, on King’s birthday. But it’s one we should probably consider frequently.
Minnesota State University associate professor Scott Fee was recognized as the Pathfinder winner this year, earning the honor for his years of work introducing MSU students to South Africa and setting up academic partnerships at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
He learned of his award from good friend Mohamed Alsadig, who was with him and friends when they visited Memphis, the Civil Rights Museum and the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. He described it as an emotional experience and one he will not soon forget.
Dan Olson, store director for Hy-Vee stores in Mankato, accepted the Business Pathfinder Award in recognition of the company’s efforts to hire recent immigrants to the U.S.
“Hiring a diverse workforce was the right thing to
do,” Olson said. Loyola High School Principal Shelley Schultz described what students learned from establishing a fair trade school. “ They realized they not only could make a difference but were called to make a difference.”
The gray-haired college professor from Kansas was historian David Nichols, with several respected books to his repertoire including ones on President Dwight Eisenhower and one on Lincoln’s relationship to the Dakota during the Dakota War.
He spoke of marching with King in Chicago in 1966, describing him as the greatest orator of the 20th century and someone who “articulated the aspirations of black Americans to white folks.” He and his wife soon after adopted a biracial baby, unheard of for that time.
All seemed to have been emotionally touched by the ideas and ideals King embraced: equal treatment, human rights and nonviolence.
That message moved these people of different backgrounds, cultures and vocations. It says a lot about the people and more about the message.
Joe Spear is editor of The Free Press. Contact him at 344-6382 or firstname.lastname@example.org om.