Barry McNamara  |  Published January 16, 2023

‘You Have to be Brave’

In Martin Luther King Jr. Day Convocation keynote, author Harold Green shares how to get ‘Views from the Mountaintop.’

Brontë De Zwart '26 of Ridleyton, Australia, was among the Monmouth College students who particip... Brontë De Zwart ’26 of Ridleyton, Australia, was among the Monmouth College students who participated in an afternoon of service to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the community.

“I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968

MONMOUTH, Ill. – To fully appreciate a view from the mountaintop – the picture-postcard view from the clouds, gazing down at the scenic landscape below – it’s important to remember what the mountain looks like at the base.

That was one of many messages in the “Views from the Mountaintop” talk shared by author Harold Green, who returned to Monmouth College Jan. 16 to once again deliver the keynote address of the College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Convocation. Green had also given the keynote talk at the event three years ago, the last time the event was held in person prior to the pandemic.

The day also included an afternoon of service throughout the city.

Be brave

Interspersed with his original poetic wordplay, which he recited flawlessly from memory, Green listed several attributes necessary to be a good climber – attributes that King possessed.

“You have to be brave,” Green said at the event, held in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium. “The mountain looks different at the base. ‘Wow, that really is 16,000 feet.’ But I’m here to conquer this, no matter how much fear I possess.”

Check out more than 100 pictures from Martin Luther King Jr. Day on campus and in the community.

But overcoming fear is only part of the process.

“Things look pretty in pictures, but if you don’t know how to navigate these summits, you’ll get left behind,” said Green. “People don’t realize how much work it takes to get to the top of the mountain.”

Having a strong team makes that hard work easier.

“Martin understood how important it was to have a strong group that pulled you up as you ascended the mountain, because this is tricky terrain,” said Green. “He had a skillful way of bringing people together in the name of good. That mountain didn’t stand a chance.”

Be optimistic

KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Author Harold Green delivers the keynote talk at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day ... KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Author Harold Green delivers the keynote talk at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Convocation, held in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.But that team might not have turned out in larger numbers if they didn’t believe the goal was achievable. And that’s where King’s optimism was needed, as well as his vision.

“Optimism is a verb. It’s a call to action. You’re either a warrior or a witness,” said Green. “But optimism is hard work when bricks are thrown at you and your home is bombed. Who Martin was, was not easy. It’s easy to say, ‘The world’s in flames.’ It’s harder to see what happens beyond that moment.”

King saw it, and he got others to believe.

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” said Green. “People have a tendency to think, ‘Where am I even going? Does this staircase even lead anywhere?’ We don’t know what’s on the other side. But the people around you are willing to build that staircase.”

Throughout the nation and the world on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, his “I Have a Dream” speech was no doubt referred to time and again. Green touched on it, too.

“Dreamers help people get through rough water,” said Green. “They’re the lighthouse.”

Have a good grip

When going through rough water, or through rough terrain on a mountain, it’s important to hold on.

“A good climber figures out how to get a good grip because things change all the time,” said Green. “Martin had a good grip. It would’ve been easier to let go and fall into a safety net. Holding on takes strength. Black folks can’t vote? Let it go. Black folks can’t be equal? Let it go. Black folks will always be abused by the police? Let it go. But no, we’re so thankful that Martin had a good grip. We need good climbers who refuse to let go.”

Green, who’ll remain on campus to present a writing workshop for Monmouth and local students on Jan. 17, switched effortlessly between his speech and his spoken-word poems. Among the more memorable lines were: “Never be broken, never be token, be golden. … You were promised better, go out and get it. … I don’t want to be a martyr or a mural. One should’ve been enough.”

The convocation also featured a presentation of Momo Boyd’s “Undefeated” by Nyasaina Kwamboka ’23 of Nairobi, Kenya, and Dareann Pettis ’26 of Monmouth; a rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” by Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica; and a recording of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson.

'RISE UP': Gabriela Madu '23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, performs Andra Day's Rise Up during Marti... ‘RISE UP': Gabriela Madu ’23 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, performs Andra Day's “Rise Up” during Martin Luther King Jr. Day Convocation, held in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.In his first official appearance as Monmouth’s new chaplain, the Rev. John Huxtable ’04, who offered a prayer near the end of the convocation, called King “a practical theologian. He put his theology into practice, which is what we are all called to do.”

Following the convocation, Monmouth’s afternoon classes were canceled so students could be involved in service activities throughout the community. More than 100 students took part in the various activities.

“Our day of service matches action to understanding,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Mark Willhardt in his opening remarks.

“This is how we keep the memory of Dr. King alive,” said Addison Cox ’23 of Morton, Illinois, one of two hosts of the convocation, along with Sencere Brent ’24 of Peoria, Illinois.

Highlights …

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