MLK Celebration: Reflecting on the Dream in Charlottesville

January 19, 2014

One day ahead of the holiday, hundreds of people gathered at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church on Sunday for a community celebration and worship service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was the 29th year for the event that brought together a diverse crowd and several local leaders. Music and prayer filled the church.

"There was reminiscing and there was hope," said attendee Lee Christian. "Hope for a better future, not just in where we're from but also where we're going."

Former University of Virginia president Dr. John Casteen served as keynote speaker. He highlighted the progress made since the march on Washington half a century ago and what is still missing to accomplish Dr. King's dream.

"It would be foolish for me to say or for you to believe that the problems Dr. King addressed in his time are solved for our time," he told the crowd.

Casteen says we have a set of laws that are influenced by that dream, like civil rights, the right to vote, equity in the workplace and in housing, and the hope for affordable healthcare for everyone. But he says the dream isn't fully realized.

"It seems to me that significant parts of Dr. King's speech can be described as in process, but that there's a tremendous amount of unfinished business," said Casteen.

Casteen points to efforts to "suppress voting" during the last election with new voter ID laws, the growing number of young African American men sitting behind bars and unequal access to education and scholarship.

He said he is concerned about the access at the very university he used to lead.

"The UVA board's retreat from the AcessUVA program that the board itself put in place worries me because it reflects the national attitude," said Casteen. "There's a place not to be a part of a national mainstream. There's a place to say we believe in this vision of education."

A recurring theme during the night was that the most effective way to strive toward equality is by tackling poverty by building a solid educational foundation for all children.

"The great threat to Dr. King's dream in our time and going forward is the process of deconstruction. The deconstruction has to do with the American dream itself, by undercutting the basis of equity or equality in the successful war on poverty," said Casteen.

At the end of the program, Casteen was honored with the 2014 Charlottesville Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Celebration Award.

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