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Keynote Speeches Inspire to Build on the Dream

Moving talks by Dr. Benjamin Carson, Tim King highlight Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Benjamin S. Carson Sr., M.D., one of the nation’s foremost physicians, opened his keynote speech at Northwestern University’s Martin Luther King Jr. day celebration with a recollection of the horrific television images he witnessed as a child -- scenes of Dr. King’s arrest, protestors blasted with fire hoses and children attacked by dogs.

Carson said that the images inspired him -- the child of a mother with only a third-grade education who was determined that he would get a great education and make a difference -- to never forget the sacrifices of Dr. King and civil rights activists. Never giving up was the theme of Carson’s speech, delivered Monday, Jan. 16.

“I decided later on in my life if those people were willing to sacrifice that much, I had to take advantage of it and that it would be a terrible dishonor to them to have been beaten, jailed and, in some cases, killed and for me not to do anything about it,” he said.

His speech, delivered to approximately 1,000 people at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, was sandwiched between moving spirituals and musical performances by Northwestern University Small Jazz Ensemble, the Alice Millar Chapel Choir and the Northwestern Community Ensemble.

President Morton Schapiro in opening remarks paid tribute to Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and former Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton, who participated in the celebration, as well as to Carson.

“I think of this day as an opportunity to consider my own role and, of course, that of our University, in helping realize the dream for which Dr. King sacrificed his life,” Schapiro said. “I devote myself on MLK Day every year to try and do a better job and be a better person.”

Later on the Chicago campus, Carson, a celebrated professor of neurosurgery, oncology, plastic surgery and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, also participated in a Q-and-A with Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell during “Building on the Dream. Acting with Purpose” -- Northwestern’s weeklong celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.

That evening Tim King, founder, president and CEO of Urban Prep Academies, a nonprofit organization operating a network of public college-prep boys’ schools in Chicago, also gave a keynote speech during the candlelight vigil at Alice Millar Chapel.

Carson stressed that King during all of his trials, setbacks and bloody battles never gave up and that it is important to challenge succeeding generations to keep that lesson alive.

“So many of our young people today have forgotten the sacrifices that so many people made in order to give them an opportunity,” Carson said. “And that’s one of the most important things about this particular day and this particular ceremony -- helping to remind all of us about the sacrifices that have been made.”

Carson learned his most important lessons about never giving up from his mother, who couldn’t read but turned off the family television and insisted her children read two books a week and deliver written reports on them.

In fact, Carson told the audience that he started out as a poor student and practical joker, but his mother’s intervention turned his life around. “She was always saying, ‘Benjamin, you can do so much better than this,’” he said. “And one day she came home and just turned the TV off.”

That made all the difference. “After a few weeks, I actually began to enjoy reading those books,” he said. “Because between the covers of those books, even though we were desperately poor, I could be anybody, I could do anything, I could go anywhere. I began to know stuff that nobody else knew.”

Within the space of a year and a half, he said, he went from the bottom to the top of his class.

Carson has devoted his life to education and assuring that all children, no matter their background, have access to a good education. That includes his being president and co-founder of the Carson Scholars Fund, which recognizes young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments.

He responded to a question posed on stage by Dallas Wright, a senior at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, echoing King’s dream of an equal and just society.

 “I do have a dream,” Carson said. “I have a dream that I share with my wife that across the entire nation in every school, public and private, that we will be able to recognize students who achieve at the highest levels academically and care about others and put them on the same kind of pedestal as we do the all-state basketball player and the all-state wrestler.”

He stressed that, like King, we need to overcome the divisions, partisanship and animosity that are pulling Americans apart today. "We cannot allow an environment to flourish here that pits people against each other,” Carson said. “We have to start understanding that we are all on the same boat. And if part of the boat goes down, the rest of it goes down, too. We have to start thinking about how we can work together in order to make life good for everybody.”

He referred to the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the importance of preserving the rights of speaking and practicing religion freely. “I think the real emphasis should not be on unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought,” he said. “The emphasis should be on learning how to be respectful of those with whom you disagree.”

Carson closed with a patriotic description of the American flag that was still flying proudly over Fort Henry during the War of 1812. “They would not give up,” he said. “That's what this country is about. That is what Dr. King was about.”

Today, Carson holds more than 60 honorary doctoral degrees and has received hundreds of awards and citations.

Prior to delivering the Evanston campus keynote address at noon at Pick-Staiger, Carson was the guest of honor at a mid-morning reception in Norris University Center.

At the candlelight vigil, Tim King, who also is an adjunct lecturer in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ African-American studies program, read from one of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speeches. The vigil included musical performances by University student a cappella groups and a moving candle-lighting ceremony.

Tim King was named ABC World News “Person of the Week,” Chicago magazine’s “Chicagoan of the Year,” People magazine’s “Hero of the Year” and to Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” list. Featured on “Good Morning America,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Moth”/USA Network’s Characters Unite series, he has been recognized by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton for his work with youth.

The celebration also included an abridged staged reading of “Stick Fly,” a new play by Northwestern alumna Lydia R. Diamond about two adult sons who independently choose to introduce their girlfriends to their parents on the same weekend, causing a clash of opinions and the unearthing of family secrets. The play was directed by faculty member Henry Godinez, an award-winning director who also is the resident artistic associate at Chicago’s Goodman Theater.
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