In the days leading up to a presidential inauguration that has left the nation deeply divided, the keynote speaker at the 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream” ceremony reminded his audience of a key area where we can find commonalities: education.
Blake Morant, dean of the George Washington University Law School, stood before the hundreds of men, women, and children gathered in the auditorium of the Douglass Community Center in Leesburg, and said King would be proud “of the rainbow of people” attending the ceremony. As King was an educated man himself who inspired many with his words, Morant said he took time in preparing his speech to look back at some of the civil rights leader’s earlier works before he had completed his education. He drew reference to King’s thesis at Morehouse College where he wrote that, “Intelligence is not enough. It must be matched with character.”
“That’s the true mark of education,” Morant emphasized. He also recalled the earlier advice of his late grandfather, a longtime minister, who told him, “You can have all the book learning, but if you don’t have common sense, it does you no good.”
Morant said there is an opportunity for us all to focus on the commonalities we all share, and to do that through education. And education isn’t contained just to classrooms, but from what we can share with each other through conversation and learning from each other, he emphasized.
That’s a stance shared by the late poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, with whom Morant was invited to share dinner when he was the dean of the Wake Forest University Law School.
“She referenced the message of commonality in education as a way of building character and helping us learn from each other,” Morant recalled of the night they met. Angelo also advised Morant that educators have a special role in helping others to “understand the beauty of humanity and the commonalities we share.”
Another instance that drew comparison for Morant was when a Winston-Salem, NC, elementary school was “adopted” by a local law firm, which took the students under its wings to provide mentorship and guidance. The elementary school saw its test scores go from some of the lowest in the region to some of the highest, but Morant said the law firm members reported that they learned more from the children than they ever dreamed.
“The kids educated us about the spirit of community,” Morant recalls hearing from those at the firm.
He ended his talk on a hopeful note.
Morant said the spirit exhibited both during the morning’s march and the ceremony at Douglass Community Center “lets me know that really reinforcing our commonalities through education is a very important task we have.”
“No matter what shall come, we shall march forward,” he said. “The spirit which [King] lived and died for, which Dr. Angelou manifested, and which you all exhibited today will serve us for many years to come.”
The ceremony also featured performances from local community groups, bands and choirs, that brought many in the audience to their feet. Local and state politicians were in attendance for the morning’s events, including Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA-10), as well as many members of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and Leesburg Town Council.