Inauguration is centerpiece of Wichita’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration

How far has this nation come since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in the nation’s capitol in 1963?

The crowd that gathered at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex for the Greater Wichita Ministerial League’s annual celebration of King on Monday morning had as its centerpiece the inauguration for a second term of the nation’s first black president.

“I believe that it is not by coincidence” that Obama’s inauguration occurred on the day honoring the charismatic preacher and civil rights leader, Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer said.

Obama was even described as the “guest speaker” for Wichita’s MLK Day celebration. The crowd of a few hundred at the metroplex stood and cheered as Obama was sworn in, and responded to his inaugural address as if he were preaching from a pulpit.

They stood and cheered loudly again when Obama concluded his speech.

Prior to the inauguration, Brewer called King “an example of courage, conviction and compassion. Courage to fight against racism, inequalities and other wrongs.

“Convictions to do the unpopular things, the hard things and the right things. Compassion to care for the lives and souls of all people, regardless of their race, religion and economic status.”

As far as this nation has come in the 50 years since King’s stirring speech, however, Brewer said he can’t escape the sense that ground is being lost.

“For every two steps forward, we have been taking three back,” he said.

A look at the nation today shows “exclusion still permeates in our communities, in our schools, in our corporations, in our political arenas and in our society at large,” Brewer said.

Four years after Obama was first elected, Brewer said, “we must realize that real change still eludes us.”

Too many people, he said, are having to figure out how to get by with less – less employment, less social status, less access to opportunities that the elite take for granted.

“If true comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t occur, the risk is the creation of second-class non-citizens,” he said, where “we treat people as labor, not human beings.

“Think about it. Does that sound familiar?”

Brewer pointed to voter identification requirements passed in 17 states, which he said deprived voting rights to nearly a million young minority people.

“This is exclusion in its hidden form,” he said. “If you look at the fact that more minorities are in prison than graduate from college, education reform is necessary.

“I could go on and on,” Brewer said. “But we must rise up to be aware of the new social and political tactics being used to enslave us as a race of people.

“We can not let Dr. King’s dream die in our hands.”

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