One by one, the students filtered to the lectern in the Nott Memorial at Union College for their chance to read a single line from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
They stepped up to the microphone, self-conscious and sometimes giggling, but when King’s words calling for racial equality and an end to discrimination came from their mouths, they suddenly seemed composed and purpose-driven.
The reading, which took place Monday afternoon, was part of Union College’s “His Dream Lives On” project to honor King.
A collection of college students, faculty and staff, area high school and middle school students and community members
took turns reading a sentence from the late civil rights leader’s speech, which was originally delivered Aug. 28, 1963.
Each speaker was videotaped and an edited version of the video will appear on the college’s website and a variety of social networks.
“We’re hoping that it’s going to be truly representative of the diversity that’s here and kind of honoring King’s legacy,” said Jason Benitez, director of multicultural affairs for Union College.
Students from high schools and middle schools throughout the region were invited to participate in the reading and to spend the afternoon at Union, to get a taste of what it’s like to attend college. About 50 participated.
Union College junior Suraiyah Abdul-Wahab, 20, of Brooklyn, who helped organize the event, said she hopes the children came away inspired.
“I hope that they’re going to want to go to college, some type of higher education. And I hope that they see other people who are in their same footsteps, who even look like them, that are doing good things, and they may want to do good things as well,” she said.
Shaniqua Rogers, 21, a Union College senior from Brooklyn, said she hopes the event will motivate kids to learn more about what King stood for. “Growing up in the public education, they just give you the gist of, ‘Oh yes, he was famous,’ and the only thing that we really know about him is his dream [speech]. … I think it’s very important to learn about his whole legacy and not just his dream,” she said.
Union students and staff who read a line from King’s speech said they were enriched by the experience.
“His words are powerful, so it’s cool that we’re still living on the dream and saying the words that he spoke, and it’s meaningful to people,” said Union College sophomore Juliette Larzelere, 20, of Lake Placid.
Reader Marissa Tanner, an administrative assistant at the college, said it felt empowering to recite King’s words.
“Today is so much different than it was when the speech was first made,” she said. “We’ve actually made progression towards having equality in our nation and in the world. So it’s really exciting and I know that we’re only going to grow.”
Andrew Vinales, 20, a Union College junior from the Bronx, said reading the speech was important because it reminds people of where they came from.
“I, as a person of color, probably wouldn’t be at Union College if it wasn’t for Dr. King himself, and many other people who risked their lives to preach racial justice,” he said.