It has been 50 years since civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. brought his message of racial justice Buffalo, and 50 years this April since his assassination, which marked the end of King's life at 39.
But his death did nothing to dim his legacy. There's still a message that demands action today, said Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash on Sunday.
Cash took the stage of Kleinhans Music Hall, the same place where King personally brought his message to this city five decades ago and reminded the audience at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration that King was fighting to quell urban riots that had unfolded all over the country, including Buffalo's East Side.
"He said, 'I will not give in to the politics of despair,' " Cash said. "This was 50 years ago."
Then he took the audience down the path of King's childhood.
"When I start thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, I get full," Cash said. "I get really, really full, and I miss him."
He recounted how King's first best friend was white until the two went to segregated schools at age 6. He recounted King's attempted suicide at age 12, and the reverend's early struggle with Christianity before he finally embraced his faith. Cash referred to a white, German girl King fell in love with while a student at Morehouse College but was pressured to break up with at age 17.
King experienced the same personal struggles that many struggle with, Cash said.
In the age of technology and acceleration, he said, everybody is going to have to raise their game. He pointed to projections that America will become a majority nonwhite country in 25 years, if not sooner.
"So you can feel the fear," Cash said. "It's basically a fear underneath what's going on."
He asked: What would have happened to King if he had not gone on to seminary and embraced a path of nonviolence in his campaign for justice?
Referring to the celebration's theme, "Breaking the Chains of Injustice," Cash said, "It's going to be up to us to grow, evolve and change. Each of us must act. We must remain resolved to break the chains of injustice, wherever and whenever they bind. There's too much silence going on."
More people need to be engaged in confronting injustice, no matter how small. He referred to King's words about being remembered not by the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
He urged people to become more engaged their own lives and the world around them as they consider how they can best practice the values of King's legacy.
"We've got to wake up people. There's too many people sleeping," Cash said. "You've got to be selfless, you've got to be working, you've got to be on this 24/7 or your grandchildren will inherit this."
He closed by saying, "Do the work."
The annual celebration also honored eight community members:
- Community Service Award: LaVonne E. Ansari, executive director of the Community Health Center of Buffalo
- Education Award: Denise V. Cobbs, assistant principal of School 81
- Woman of Distinction Award: Mary Ruth Kapsiak, retired member of the Buffalo Board of Education
- Business Award: Luis A. Rodriguez Jr., president of Rodriguez Construction Group
- First Responders Award: Buffalo firefighters Sean P. Duffy, Robert Ingram, William O'Neil, Ramon J. Suarez Jr.