by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Niagara University alumnus Hugh B. Scott, federal magistrate judge for the Western District of New York, thought he'd never see the day.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the first black president, Barack Obama, took the public oath of office in a grand display in the nation's capitol.
It's a far stretch from the world he grew up in, with the 6 p.m. evening news broadcasting civil unrest and people being carted away in paddy wagons and blasted by fire hoses, presumably guilty of nothing more than yearning to be equal. And fighting for it.
"My generation saw the civil rights movement unfold on television," he said. "Saw it unfold because of our parents' struggles. During my lifetime, I saw how violent and hateful people could be. And in a country founded on principles of democracy and equality, how could that ever happen?"
Scott presented the keynote address Monday night at Niagara University's Martin Luther King Jr. event, the highlight of a week-long celebration of service in the community.
He said processing the events he witnessed on television wasn't difficult because he came from a well-educated family. But not every family is like this, not everyone has the access to education he had.
Fixing the problems the country faces today, including the numerous arrests and convictions of minorities and poor youths, starts with education, he said.
It isn't about aiming for the highest goals possible, ones only the smallest percentage achieve, he said. Instead, the goal should be learning as much as possible, the best chance many have at leaving the ghettos and slums behind.
"We need to hold our schools accountable for providing a quality education," he said. "Our children need to know only a miniscule amount of people will get a contract with the NBA or the NFL, or a contract with a record company to perform and write rap music. But a real education could be their ticket out of the slums of this country."
He also touched on ways to reconcile and heal in this world with a black president.
Monday's party also featured music, as Falls gospel voice Marsha McWilson belted out soulful words in honor of King and the struggles of black America throughout the centuries. Niagara University student Gequon Hunter also took the stage, performing "We Shall Overcome," to applause from the gathered crowd.
But it was the St. Martin de Porres Choir which stole the show, performing multiple song selections, including its own rendition of "We Shall Overcome," with help from the entire audience.
Surrounded in the Castellani Art Museum by portraits of specific instances of injustice and overcoming obstacles, the program served as a celebration and a reminder of what it takes to achieve what the human race sets out to do.
"Dr. King supported the ideals of the American society and challenged it to get better," University Executive Vice President Bonnie Rose, Ph. D. said. "And what better place to be than here, surrounded by these displays featuring injustice ... and ways we've overcome it."
"He wanted equality of opportunity, respect for people of all races and colors. But the foundation of all he believed and all he stood for was love and peace and faith. So any topic that explores the qualities of humanity, it's really about love, peace and freedom. And that's regardless of what differences we have."