During a panel broadcast Tuesday by Kentucky Wesleyan College, three community leaders provided their perspectives regarding Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy as well as how to combat racism in the Greater Owensboro area.
The panel was hosted by Eric Schmidt, a political science professor at KWC. Schmidt asked each panelist questions submitted by members of the Black Student Unions at Brescia University and Kentucky Wesleyan.
The questions ranged from MLK Jr.’s legacy to structural reform to disparities in equity and racism facing Daviess County in particular.
The Rev. Rhondalyn Randoph, president of Owensboro’s NAACP chapter, told Schmidt that she believed King’s legacy stemmed from his perspective on nonviolent demonstrations, as well as his ability to reach a great number of people.
“His perspective on his Christian faith made the Civil Rights movement more acceptable to the general, mainstream society,” Randolph said. “He let people from all walks of life into the movement.”
Daniel Kuthy, a political science professor at KWC, agreed with Randolph and addressed King’s ability and know-how in recruiting “massive” numbers of people that he knew he needed in order to accomplish a social movement.
“He was the first one to point this out to us,” Kuthy noted, adding that, “the efforts of somebody, like our students today, is equally equally important as those in the spotlight of the social movements happening today.”
Fr. Larry Hostetter, president of Brescia University, said King’s Christian faith and study of other peaceful icons such as Gandhi were key to his nonviolent approach.
“Violence might change things, but it doesn’t change hearts,” he said. “For it to be long-lasting, hearts have to change.”
As for combatting and understanding the issues regarding racism in the Owensboro area, Randolph said the first step toward addressing those issues had to come from people realizing they still existed.
“It makes a difference when you sit down and express how you feel about the state of our community instead of sweeping things under the rug,” she said. “Being able to stand in truth is also important. We are a society living in two different realities right now.”
Those two different realities also included two different justice systems, she said. Randolph used the example of the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C., to highlight the difference between police presences at Black Lives Matter rallies that occurred over the summer — saying it showed that over-policing continued to plague Black communities unequally.
As noted by Kuthy, racism issues facing the Owensboro area often came from a lack of empathy and willingness to understand perspectives that “might be uncomfortable or point to your own complicity or fault with these issues.”
Hostetter agreed, attributing some of that lack of empathy to a simple lack of awareness as to “what racism actually is.”
“Our culture is, at its root — white supremacy has been part of who we are,” he said. “As a white male who has benefitted from the privileges that come from that sort of system, there’s a lack of appreciation and understanding that we all have to have a role to play. People feel like racism is somebody else’s issue instead of, ‘No, I’m part of a system that is inherently racist.’ It takes courage to look at our own complicity.”
All three panelists offered their own hopes for a more integrated, understanding and educated society. Hostetter and Kuthy pointed to the open-mindedness and acceptance of their colleges’ students as hopes for a better, brighter future where equity and empathy could overcome apathy and systemic racism.
“During the [BLM] demonstrations last summer … it wasn’t just Black people but people from all walks of life standing for what is right,” Randolph said. “The education that has been poured into these young people is paying off.”