Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration speakers urge college students to engage in human rights activism

In conjunction with Associated Students Inc. and Beach Pride, black faculty and staff members at California State University, Long Beach hosted a celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Tuesday.

“If you think to yourself ‘my vote doesn’t really count for anything,’ shame on you,” President of the Africana Studies Student Association Amethyst Jefferson-Roberts said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 2,592,800 African-American students enrolled in undergraduate education in 2012. This amounted to 15 percent of America’s student population. 369,300 African-American students enrolled in graduate programs, which totaled 14.3 percent of the student population.

Since 2000, there has been a 60 percent increase in African-American student enrollment in undergraduate programs and a 49 percent increase in graduate programs.

In Spring 2014, the number of African-American undergraduate students at CSULB decreased by 19 to 1,214 students, with nine less African American graduate students than in fall 2014, totaling 258 students, according to the university website.

Tuesday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration focused on the Selma-Montgomery marches, in which students played a vital role, according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project at Stanford University. The marches began in Jan. 1965 and aimed to secure voting rights led by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Beach Pride manager Keya Allen said she hoped the marches could provide some insight into how students can keep civil rights movements going.

In her poem, “The Legacy,” Jefferson-Roberts criticized the people’s tendency to sensationalize the words “I have a dream” while forgetting the context in which they were originally spoken.

Amethyst said that failing to exercise the right to vote in America, won by the Selma-Montgomery marches, was a “slap in the face to our ancestors.”

Pastor William D. Smart, Jr., the president and CEO of SCLC, said that it was up to both the youths and older generations to actively engage in ongoing social and political issues within their communities.

“I think students can write the legislation,” Smart said. “ I think students can work for the right organizations, I think they can create their own organizations, even while they’re in school. Don’t wait. If the spirit hits you, move now.”

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