Rousing verses of FAMU’s concert choir’s rendition of “Hold On” echoed loudly off row after row of empty chairs in the Al Lawson Multi-Purpose Center Friday morning. The occasion? Martin Luther King III, son of Martin Luther King Jr., was the guest speaker for FAMU’s convocation honoring the late civil rights leader’s achievements.
For students and faculty born after King’s assassination, his son is the closest living link to the late visionary’s life and dream. However, the 10:10 a.m. program, held in a building equipped to seat 13,000 people, was only a quarter full. The mandatory suspension of all classes conflicting with convocation time wasn’t enough to guarantee student, faculty and staff representation at one of the most important convocations of the year.
When FAMU held a concert featuring Trey Songz, Common and Fabolous in the exact same location little more than a couple of months ago, the building was filled to capacity with standing room only. Students paid as much $60 – $80 to ogle Trey Songz as he stripped off his shirt and dry-humped the floor, and throw panties at Common as he testified of wanting to be as “free as the spirits of those who left.”
The free event, however, open to all FAMU and FSU students, faculty, staff and community members, looked like Coleman Library during any time of year except for exam time: deserted. King’s words of inspiration, humorous perspective on current events and their impact on the black community, and students’ responsibility to self and race, fell on an audience of predominately elementary, middle and high school students. Students texted, talked, listened to iPods, slept, or sauntered up and down the aisles begging for attention as King tried to press the importance of continuing his father’s dream on seemingly deaf ears.
As the largest HBCU in the country, our entire student body could easily fill the Al Lawson Center to capacity. If hearing the inspirational words of King’s son wasn’t enough to rouse student interest, then paying homage to King’s campaigns to fight economic racism and segregation, and pushing the Civil Rights’ Act of 1964, should have aroused a sense of respect and appreciation.
All of those goals King fought so hard to see accomplished set the foundation for the multiple minority grants and scholarships that over 92 percent of FAMU’s student body receives.
But it didn’t. The continuing legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. no longer takes priority over entertainment, more importantly, a couple extra hours of sleep. The audience joined hands at the end of convocation and sang “We Shall Overcome,” a song of inspiration and hope for the future. But the feeble, muffled rendition of the civil rights’ song, sang by what little audience members were left, only reflected how far we still have to go to achieve King’s dream of unity.