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Monmouth University Founders’ Day Celebrates MLK’s 1966 Visit to Campus; Pledges Continued Diversity and Inclusion in Scholarship

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – (Oct. 6, 2016) – President Paul R. Brown presided over Monmouth University’s 33rd Founders’ Day convocation on Wednesday, Oct. 5., an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Oct. 6, 1966 visit to campus. Brown dedicated the event’s focus to issues of diversity and inclusion.

Using the same podium and microphone that King used, Brown asked the crowd gathered in the OceanFirst Bank Center to reflect on the necessity of having a diverse faculty on campus today. Brown said that, for him, diversity in the faculty helped students in “negotiating differences of perspective, while learning how to think critically,” calling these “some of the most important tools we can provide to our students to become engaged citizens in a world that is undergoing seismic shifts in population, technology, climate and formerly established business models.”

Brown noted that the campus and the nation still face some of the issues that King raised in his Monmouth address five decades ago.

“And, so, on the one hand, we have come a long, long way,” Brown quoted King as saying, “but on the other hand, we must honestly face the fact that we still have a long, long way to go before the problem of racial injustice is solved.”

Pledging to continue to follow King’s “clear call to action that we have already embraced” at Monmouth, Brown introduced convocation speaker Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell simply as a “national treasure.”

Caldwell, a retired United Methodist minister and Asbury Park resident who first met King in the early 1950s when they were both in seminary in Boston, was an active, self-described “foot soldier” in the civil rights movement. He participated in King’s 1963 March on Washington, marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. during 1964’s “Freedom Summer” and introduced King in 1965 on Boston Common during a protest against school segregation.

An energetic and engaging octogenarian, Caldwell remains an active and forceful advocate, having turned his attention in recent years to what he sees as the intersections between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and today’s struggle for LGBT equality.

Caldwell commended those at Monmouth who had the courage to bring King to campus in 1966 and called today’s Monmouth an institution “compelled to speak to the chaos” of current events, prompting him, he said, to use the title of King’s last work, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” as a framework for his remarks.

He then suggested that “racial chaos has been starkly uncovered during the Obama presidency and the Trump ascendancy” and the overturning of some laws assuring equality may mean “that on matters of race we may have changed without changing.”

Invoking King’s famous mantra that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Caldwell tied the civil rights struggles of a half-century ago to today’s continuing struggles saying that as King realized that a “generalized, non-specific approach to justice” would not create actual justice for blacks as an explanation why “SCLC [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] was race-specific as is the NAACP and Black Lives Matter.”

True community, Caldwell suggested, “is only achieved when we dare to engage in the struggle for justice” and he urged the crowd not to engage in what he called “the violence of silence” but to coalesce in the continuing struggle for justice.

Caldwell charged Monmouth University to continue to embrace the courage of those leaders who originally brought King to campus, the commitment to diversity outlined by President Brown and to respond to the challenges laid out by King and become, as an institution, a “drum major for justice.”

Founders’ Day started at Monmouth University in 1983, as a way to celebrate the semicentennial of the institution’s founding and has since become an annual rite. In his opening remarks, Brown asked for a moment of silence to honor former Board Chair Jules L. Plangere, Jr., who passed away last month. Calling Plangere “a great man [and] a great friend to Monmouth University,” Brown noted that Plangere began his tenure as Board chairman the same year that Founders’ Day began.