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Dover Post
  • King's dream is remembered with reverence, humor

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  • The dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that there someday would be a world where persons of all colors and creeds could live in harmony, was celebrated Monday at Delaware State University's Education and Humanities Theater. Sponsored by former Dover City Councilman Reuben Salters' Inner City Cultural League, the program was a mixture of music, dancing, song, poetry and speeches, including insightful and often hilarious remarks from keynote speaker Bette J. McLeod. The DSU program followed a morning tribute prayer breakfast at the Modern Maturity Center, sponsored by the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Zeta Rho Lambda Chapter of Dover. DSU's program included a tribute to the late Nelson Mandela with a performance by Dover's own Sankofa Dancers and Drummers. The pounding rhythm of the Sankofa musicians' drums was matched perfectly by an energetic dance performance that evoked Mandela's own spirit and dream of a peaceful end to apartheid, a goal that was accomplished in his lifetime. Mandela, who died in December, often spoke of King's exhortations toward nonviolence as a guiding example, which he wanted to emulate in his own work in South Africa. Also on hand were retired DSU President Dr. William DeLauder, Delaware Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons and Rep. John Carney, as well as Dover Mayor Carleton E. Carey Sr. and state Sen. Brian J. Bushweller. The event was the 28th annual celebration of King's legacy. It began in 1986 thanks to the efforts of Salters, former DSU President Dr. Luna Mishoe, and former Gov. Michael N. Castle. At the center of the celebration was King's emphasis on the need that today's young people, regardless of race, be well educated. In his remarks, DSU President Dr. Harry Williams noted the university is continuing that tradition, with the school having been named Public Land-Grant Institution of the Year at the November meeting of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities in Washington, D.C. Carney noted the events celebrating King's birth have taken on a special significance, making it more than just a civic holiday. The annual observations of King's birthday − the Nobel Peace Prize winning civil rights leader would have been 85 years old on Jan. 15 – have become “a call to complete the unfinished business Dr. King left behind,” he said. It was McLeod who evoked laughter and elicited voices of agreement from the crowd with her thoughts on King and what he meant to the world. The Kentucky native is a retired mathematics teacher who now lives in Bowie, Md. She worked for more than three decades in the Prince George's County public school system, including coordinating a conflict resolution team as those schools went through the desegregation process. Later, she served as American University's director of race equality. With more than eight decades of life experience − she's often referred to as being “80 years young,” McLeod claims she doesn't have an “off” button. “I want to keep working and doing what I do as long as I have breath,” she said in an interview before the ceremonies. “My calling in this world is to help people.” She noted that one question she always is asked is, “What would Martin say about today?” “I know what I hope he would say,” she said. “He'd say, 'Since I've been gone, what have you been doing?'” “He had a vision and he had dreams,” McLeod added. “I think he would want us to keep going. He'd want to know what we're doing in terms of immigration, education and jobs, things of that nature.” “We still need mountain climbers,” she said, referring to King's “Mountaintop” speech, delivered just before his 1968 assassination. “There are issues Dr. King was working on that he never got a chance to finish, and they still need to be done. “We're always in need of people to help others improve their quality of life, not just in our country but in others,” she added. “Everyone needs to keep working as a society.” To make her point, McLeod told the story of a group of frogs who decided to scale a mountain. One by one, however, members of the group fell by the wayside as others told them they could not accomplish their task. Finally, one lone frog made it to the top. It turned out that the frog who never listened to the naysayers was the one who succeeded, she said. “The higher you go and the harder you work, the less you hear from the people who don't care,” she said. “So the person who gets to the mountaintop gets something done,” she said to a wave of audience laughter. Afterward, as the audience crowded around McLeod and Salters, the former councilman said he was pleased with the turnout. “This was the best we've ever had,” Salters said. “We had a tremendous crowd and a motivated speaker. I think for the support from our community has been outstanding. “I've known Bette for more than 20 years, and we've traveled to Africa together,” he continued. “She's just a dynamo, funny, witty and quite knowledgeable of the world.” As for McLeod, she said her message was simple. “I want people to be encouraged, to contribute to a better quality of life for themselves and for others,” she said.

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