Decades after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington, Sylvia Russell used the civil rights leader’s birthday celebration to remind Augusta there is still work to do.
In 2012, an education gap is growing between minority and white students, she said. The black unemployment rate is almost double that of white workers, she added, and people of all colors are struggling in a war with poverty.
“Change is rarely easy, and it often comes very slowly,” said the guest speaker at the King birthday ceremony Friday at Paine College. “So today, despite a lot of progress … we still face many of the same issues that led to the march on Washington nearly 50 years ago … I know for sure Dr. King wouldn’t want us to be on the sidelines.”
In Paine’s campus chapel, about 300 people gathered Friday to celebrate King’s birthday and continue the tradition of his message.
The ceremony was a collaboration among Paine, Augusta State University, Georgia Health Sciences University and Augusta Technical College.
Russell, of AT&T Georgia, targeted the young people in the audience, telling them the best weapon to use fighting social problems is education.
Breaking a cycle of inequality is possible by “making sure that you leave through the same front door that you entered with a degree or a certificate in your hand,” Russell said.
In the audience, the Rev. Paulwyn L. Boliek sat quietly, listening to the speakers and singers from the four schools’ choirs honor King.
Every year he makes it a tradition to celebrate King’s legacy, mostly to remember the battle he witnessed growing up in segregated Columbia.
“I never went to school with a black person, I never had a black teacher, and I think my education was diminished by that,” Boliek said. “My children and my grandchildren benefited from a more integrated culture. It was painful growing up.”
Latice Washington brought her two sons to the ceremony to remind them of their culture and the achievements of black Americans before them.
Although he has only read about civil rights struggles in history books, Washington’s older son, Raequan Kea, 14, said he is aware of how the civil rights leader’s work helped create a better future for him.
“We should be thankful we can sit in the cafeteria and the gymnasium at school with all kids and not have confrontations about race,” Raequan said.