Hollins Honors Martin Luther King Jr. as America’s Moral Conscience

Hollins Honors Martin Luther King Jr. as America’s Moral Conscience

Diversity and Inclusivity, Special Events

January 16, 2024

Hollins Honors Martin Luther King Jr. as America’s Moral Conscience MLK Day 2024

Over the course of what President Mary Dana Hinton described as “a day of learning and a day of reflection,” Hollins celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 15 with the theme, “Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation.”

Hinton welcomed students, faculty, and staff to the university’s Babcock Auditorium to kick off a morning of events highlighted by a keynote address from a local pastor and community activist and workshops centering on each of the three components of the 2024 theme.

“It’s a day when we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a legacy built on peace, love, strength, and most importantly for us, community,” Hinton stated. She cited a quote “that lives in my heart” from King. “‘The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.’ At Hollins we are called to think intensively and critically, and yet Dr. King has called upon us to make explicit the goal of character building. We have to be attentive to what’s written within the books that that we read, but we also have to be attentive to the ways we choose to live our lives.”

Hinton noted, “Here at Hollins each day we have the opportunity to build our character. Our mission as an institution is to ensure that your character is informed by learning and by community.” She added, “I’m so glad we’ve chosen today to learn about King’s legacy and to reflect on our own character. Yes, we dwell in the shadow of King’s legacy, but every person in this room, every one of you, is building a legacy of your own. May it too be filled with light and with love.”

The Rev. Dr. William Lee, a minister, scholar, educator, and health care equity advocate, was the keynote speaker for this year’s commemoration. A three-time recipient of the Key to the City of Roanoke, the municipality’s highest honor, and Roanoke’s 2011 Citizen of the Year, Lee served for 39 years as pastor of Loudon Avenue Christian Church and founded a not-for-profit health care facility emphasizing access to medical care for the uninsured and underserved.

Discussing the renowned “I Have a Dream” speech from August 1963, Lee cited one of King’s closest advisors and friends, legal counsel Clarence B. Jones, who described the address as “a call to the soul of America. It was a call to the moral conscience of America. The powerful use of the phrase ‘I have a dream’ was a summons to the conscience of America.”*

The Rev. Dr. William Lee delivered the keynote address for Hollins’ celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2024.

 “The ‘I Have a Dream’ speech is where Dr. King became the moral conscience of America,” Lee echoed, asserting that a moral conscience is something “America will always need. America always needs somebody to bring us back to reality.”  

Referencing the celebration’s “Truth, Healing, and Reconciliation” theme, Lee explained that “a moral conscience’s main concern is to tell the truth. There is no healing, there is no reconciliation if people do not know the truth. Truth is not easy to tell, and truth is not easy to handle. I would suggest that without persons who can help us have a moral compass…we won’t know the truth and won’t be able to handle the truth.”

King “told the truth constantly,” Lee said, “Sometimes you have to find the right moment, the right words, and the right situation to tell the truth. And he told it in a way that the masses could hear it.”

A powerful yet not widely known example of King’s “marvelous gift” for truth telling, Lee said, comes early in the “I Have a Dream” speech. King began his address by citing President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. “This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice,” King said. “It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But 100 years later, the Negro is not free.”

“He kept repeating over and over, ‘a hundred years later, the Negro is not free, still crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination,’” Lee stated. “Dr. King was dropping a mirror in front of America and saying, ‘You’ve got to live like you say you are. You cannot say people are free when they are living in substandard housing, corralled in ghettos, treated with no health care, and on and on and on.”

Lee continued, “That was Dr. King’s gift to America. He believed that America had a conscience. He believed that America was better than it was presenting and portraying herself. He believed that America at her core was going to rise up and be what America needed to be. His job and the job of the Civil Rights Movement was to redeem the soul of America.”

At one point in the “I Have a Dream” address, Lee said King “shifts from talking to all of America to Black America. This is heavy duty stuff, and a lot of folks miss this in the speech. He now says, ‘Let me talk to my people. We cannot get our freedom at the expense of creating violence against those who create violence against us.’ He was trying to say to Black people that you also have to have a moral conscience, that you can’t allow what’s happening to you to cause you to become that. Dr. King put it this way: ‘If we do an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we will be a blind and toothless nation.’”

Lee concluded by reiterating his conviction that King “had the absolute inner strength to believe that there was a better America than the America we saw. He kept the moral compass. He kept America’s conscience. What you saw was not the essence of who we are. There’s a better person in you and a better person in me, and I’m hoping that we’ll keep on looking until we see it.”

In the breakout sessions, the “Workshop on Truth” was led by LaTonya Bolden, MSW, LCSW, a clinical supervisor and therapist with an interest in social justice. Antonio Stoval, a holistic health advocate teaching self-care and mindfulness, conducted the “Workshop on Healing.” And, the “Workshop on Reconciliation” featured Katie Zawacki, founder and president of Points of Diversity, which brings people together from different points of view to discuss difficult topics.

*“‘He Had Transformed’: What It Was Like to Watch Martin Luther King Jr. Give the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech,” TIME magazine, August 28, 2018.