Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for equality has made progress, but it’s not over yet, State Rep. Chris Turner told the crowd at Bethlehem Baptist Church on Sunday evening.
“A time traveler from 50 years ago would marvel at the diversity of our classrooms, faculty and staff,” Turner (D-Grand Prairie) said. “It’s undeniable. If you’re looking at our classrooms or the State of the Union address, progress is easy to see. Dr. King would have been happy. But would he be satisfied?”
As the keynote speaker of the ninth annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, Turner challenged the approximately 250 attendees to work together and keep pushing to “make no child left behind a reality and not just a slogan.”
“Dr. King said poverty, ignorance and disease are our enemies,” Turner said. “Education provides a path out of poverty. How does a child do well in school when her head is throbbing from a toothache or when he didn’t have dinner the night before?”
Turner cited statistics that show Texas ranks 47th in the nation in SAT scores and last in residents with high school diplomas. Turning down national medical care funds, requiring photo IDs to vote and shorter voting hours are threats to equality, Turner said.
Lyndsey Captain, a 2008 Mansfield High School graduate who recently earned a doctor of jurisprudence degree from the South Texas College of Law, encouraged the audience to persevere.
“Audacity is persistence,” Captain said. “Dr. King kept knocking and never gave up. We are a community of many races gathered in one place, freely gathered. The vision is far from fulfilled, but we still have hope. Let’s all vow to have the audacity to hope.”
The event also featured a community choir composed of members from Bethlehem Baptist, First United Methodist and Crossroads Christian Church.
Lharmony Vitacco, a refugee from Cambodia, reminded the audience what it means to be free.
“I represent a dream that has come true,” said Vitacco, who was a 17-year-old studying in Hong Kong when her country fell to a Communist regime in 1975 with members of her family still there. “I knew I could not go home. If I went home, I would be executed.
“My father instilled in us the value of education,” she said. “He told us ‘Together you are strong, divided you are weak.’ We are successful because someone mentored us and showed us the way.”