Civil rights advocate Al Sharpton said that America still lacks racial equality nearly forty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. during a speech at O’Donovan Hall Tuesday night as part of a week of events honoring King’s legacy.

Sharpton said that school systems in particular are plagued by inequality and a lack of basic resources, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd watching his address.

“It’s not a question of suffering better, it’s a question of not suffering at all,” Sharpton said, rejecting the idea that people should be satisfied with the progress of civil rights over the past half century.

Sharpton called it ironic that many of the politicians who were opposed to creating a holiday in commemoration of King spoke fondly about the civil rights leader earlier in the week. Many of these politicians, who Sharpton did not identify, referred to King as a communist and liar in the past, he said.

Sharpton said that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day should remain focused on preserving King’s legacy, and warned against allowing the federal holiday to become distorted like he said many other American holidays have become.

“If we’re not careful, justice, peace and family will have little to do with King Day,” he said.

Sharpton also offered his ideas on the life and legacy of the man considered by many to be the father of the 20th-century civil rights movement.

Sharpton said that King exemplified the importance of faith in achieving success.

“At some point [King] got to a spiritual place where he no longer feared evil,” Sharpton said. “His core belief in God drove him to be successful.”

Sharpton added that King provided a model of perseverance for not changing his beliefs in the face of public pressure and continuing his fight even after winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Price. He also praised King for helping secure enough support to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which extended the right to vote to many disenfranchised African-Americans.

Sharpton said that hip-hop artists should use their prominent stature to promote civil rights and that he has questioned the topics of certain artists’ songs in his conversations with them.

“Mirrors are not just to reflect, they are to correct what you see,” Sharpton said in response to the notion that hip-hop artists reflect the world in which they live in their music.

When asked during a question-and-answer period about future civil rights initiatives, Sharpton said that rebuilding New Orleans and an end to violence in Iraq will be two important goals of the movement throughout the rest of the year.

The event also featured a speech by Fr. Timothy Godfrey, S.J., as well as student reflections from William Godwin (COL ’07) and Samad Pardei (COL ’06). It also included the Georgetown Gospel Choir, St. Augustine Catholic Church’s Gospel Choir and Movements of Grace Dancers.

The week honoring King began Monday with a gospel concert featuring Georgetown’s own gospel choir and legendary gospel singer Yolanda Adams at the Kennedy Center. President Bush spoke at that event.

On Wednesday night students discussed the significance of King’s life and legacy at the Student Reflection Dinner..

Faculty members facilitated a conversation King’s legacy over lunch at Copley Formal Lounge yesterday. Tomorrow, the university Gospel Choir will perform at MCI Center when Georgetown men’s basketball team takes on Duke.

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