Barry McNamara  |   Published January 18, 2016

Honoring King

Monmouth’s MLK convocation speaker urges students to live lives that matter
  • The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson (center), director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness, poses at the convocation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with two of the event’s organizers, freshman Denzel Johnson of Chicago and junior TaShea’ Tinglin of Calumet City, Ill.
The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, a social justice advocate for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was the featured speaker at a special Monmouth College convocation on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Held in honor of the civil rights leader, the event was organized, in part, by members of the Monmouth student group Umoja, which draws its name from the Swahili word for “unity.”

“It’s significant that you’re in class today, because Dr. King was a scholar,” Nelson told the many students in attendance. “This is the preparatory ground that you are standing on right now.”

Nelson serves as director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of Public Witness and is well-known as a speaker, preacher and advocate for social justice with the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.

“Think beyond just your major but how, with that major, you can make a difference beyond yourself,” he said. “We were created by God for a central purpose that goes beyond ourselves. Yours may not be a liberation story like Dr. King’s, but it can be doing something significant to make a mark on humanity and bring us further along than we are today.”

Nelson, who was raised in Orangeburg, S.C., talked about the dead and injured in the Orangeburg Massacre in 1968, noting how it did not – and does not, historically – register in the same way as did the more publicized shootings at Kent State University in 1970.

“Their stories are untold,” he said of the victims of Orangeburg and similar events from that time period. “Great sacrifices were made. We celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, but we also need to celebrate those whose lives were affected by the movement.”

Nelson also used his platform to discuss issues such as gun violence, which he traced, in part, to a ripple effect that began with the suburbanization of cities in the 1970s. As inner cities lost employment, many were trapped in poverty, and crime became a way out for many.

“We can reduce gun violence with background checks,” he said. “We need better regulations to reduce the families that cry over the loss of loved ones.”

He also spoke about the current political campaign season. He called for campaign finance reform, saying “Money is being poured into the coffers of political candidates and not into the building of the United States.”

Nelson also spoke about voting power, and encouraged the audience to look more deeply into the candidates.

“Vote based on what we know about their record, not because you like the way they look,” he said. “It takes work to know what we are doing at the polls.”

The convocation also included performances by the Colorful Voices of Praise, Monmouth College’s student gospel choir, and 1Akord, a gospel group from Peoria.

“Dr. King would be present at mass meetings, and he would close them as the featured speaker,” explained TaShea’ Tinglin, a junior from Calumet City, Ill., as she opened the convocation. “But music would also be featured, and that’s why we have two groups with us today – our own Colorful Voices of Praise, and 1Akord from Peoria.”

In his closing remarks, one of the event’s organizers, freshman Denzel Johnson of Chicago, said, “Don’t allow anybody to pull you low into hatred. Don’t let anybody allow you to not struggle for justice. We have a responsibility to make this a better place for everybody – to transform our dark yesterdays of injustice into a bright future of justice. Let nobody stop us.”

The convocation was followed by a service project on the concourse of the Huff Athletic Center. Through the organization Kids Against Hunger, the campus community came together to pack meals for poverty-stricken areas of Africa.
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