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'Unmet challenges' continue even as we honor King
By Melissa Jenco | Daily Herald Staff

Keynote speaker Rev. Robert Harman, who has served for more then 20 years as a national leader for mission in the United Methodist Church, speaks Monday during North Central College's Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

Keynote speaker Rev. Robert Harman, far left, has served for more then 20 years as a national leader for mission in the United Methodist Church.


Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/18/2010 11:58 AM | Updated: 1/19/2010 10:38 AM

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The Rev. Robert Harman still remembers the distrustful looks he and other clergymen received as they traveled from Illinois to Selma, Ala., in 1965 to support civil rights leaders.

He still remembers the freedom songs and the words of the preachers that inspired civil rights activists to march to Montgomery with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

He remembers the calls for justice that applied not only to the south but to the housing projects of Chicago, where he marched with King the following year.

Though decades have passed, Harman said there are unmet challenges in reaching equality. Those in the majority, he said, have to learn to communicate across cultures, to "hear each other in his or her own language without forcing them to be different than they are."

Harman, an alumnus of North Central College and retired from the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, shared this message with about 250 students, faculty and community members Monday morning at the Naperville school's 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfast.

"We have an opportunity to reshape social institutions around values of equality and justice," he told them. "The dream of Martin Luther King is still very much before us."

North Central President Harold Wilde also made a call for action Monday. He told those in attendance they will face a "lifetime of tests."

"You may not be Martin Luther King, you may not be that eloquent. None of us can be that eloquent or that special," Wilde said. "But we can all be ... people who witness for our faith, people who witness for our values, people who make decisions with consequences."

North Central College junior Jessica Branch, president of the Black Student Association, hopes her classmates will not only think about what King did for black people but for all people and what still needs to be done.

"Understanding where we've come from and how far we've come along, we can appreciate where we're going and even go a step further," she said.

The college is in the midst of a weeklong slate of activities planned in honor of King. There will be a discussion of Princeton professor Cornel West's recent talk at the college at noon on Thursday at Kiekhofer Hall, 329 E. School St. The week culminates with the 22nd annual Gospel Extravaganza at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at Pfeiffer Hall, 310 E. Benton Ave.