FAMU faculty, alumni and hundreds of students gathered in Gaither Gym Thursday morning for the celebration of Martin Luther KingJr., FAMU’s annual MLK Convocation.
As the band elegantly opened the ceremony, keynote speaker Everett B. Ward took the podium. Ward, who is the general president of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and served as the Director of Historically Black Colleges and University/ Minority Institutions of Higher Education Program, led his speech by acknowledging the great university that Florida A&M is and has always been.
He said he stood proud to be among the school’s president, vice presidents, trustees and student leaders, and all members of the Divine Nine.
There was an undeniable calm in Gather Gym as the crowd listened to Ward detail the lifelong accomplishments the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to achieve: from age 15, when he was accepted into Morehouse College; from when he was 32 and gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. And most importantly, at the age of 35, when he led one of the greatest marches documented in U.S history — the Selma to Montgomery march, a 54-mile protest in Alabama that concluded at the state capital. A sense of inspiration filled the gymnasium as Ward continued his speech
“In the midst of the resurgent racism, voter suppression, violent attacks on African American men and women, increased hate crimes and an institutionalized prison pipeline system that is disproportionately represented by men of African descent; I ask you, are you willing to do what is right? As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, we must ask ourselves that urgent question.”
He preached directly to the student body — the New Generation, as Ward called them. He expressed with a passion that it is this generation’s duty to speak truth and pass the legacy on.
King would be proud to witness that in his home state of Georgia, Ward said, where an African American woman and graduate of Spelman College, the same institution his mother and sister attended, would produce a nominee to be the next governor of the state.
Ward also noted that the former mayor of Tallahassee, a 2018 Democratic nominee for Florida governor, once sat in this gym and walked the halls of FAMU. He made it imperative that young people must accept the dual responsibility of scholarship and leadership demonstrated by those who served the community before them.
In the final words of his speech Ward concluded by highlighting that King, from age 15 to 39, did not ask for permission to be a leader.
“Dr. King said to himself, ‘I’m going to lead because it’s the right thing to do.’ I say to you, as we celebrate his 90th birthday, now more than ever we must do what is right and we must be unwavering in our commitment to freedom, justice and equality for all people.”