When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Syracuse University in 1965, he promised students at Sims Hall, “We will win our freedom.”
On Sunday night, political commentator Angela Rye told hundreds of students gathered in King’s honor why she chose the word freedom as her focus in 2018.
“I want us to remember that (freedom) still is a possibility,” Rye told the audience at Syracuse University’s 33rd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
The yearly event at the Carrier Dome is the largest university-sponsored event in the United States to honor King’s legacy. Rye referenced the theme of this year’s program, “From Intention to Impact,” several times throughout her speech.
“Our intentions can be very pure, but if our intentions never move us to real action, we’ve not done much,” she said.
Rye beseeched the audience during her keynote address to remember some of the most painful parts of American history in order to learn from them. While there has been progress, Rye said that the United States hasn’t come nearly as far as King dreamed.
“We’ve got to embrace the truth so we can repair the foundation,” said Rye, who appears regularly on CNN and NPR and previously served as the executive director and general counsel to the Congressional Black Caucus. “The foundation is woefully flawed, and until we fix the foundation, people will be oppressed.”
Rye grew even more impassioned as she explicitly and unabashedly communicated her thoughts on America’s current political situation, calling out both President Donald Trump, referring to him as “your president,” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom she said was taking the Department of Justice back into the days of the “Department of Injustice.”
“I don’t want you to tell me about [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] dream when you support policies that make the reality of far too many a nightmare,” she said.
“Don’t tell me about the content of my character when you are profiling, stopping and frisking, setting unaffordable bail, doling out harsh sentences and wrongfully convicting our brothers and sisters,” she continued.
Rye told her audience that the fight for equality can only be won together.
“We were created to be interdependent, not independent, not standing solo, not rolling alone,” she said. “We can’t make this alone. We need each other.”
In her closing remarks, Rye emphasized to her audience how they could honor Dr. King’s legacy.
“If you want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, don’t just dream–work,” she said. “If you want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, don’t just say woke–work woke. If you want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, don’t just fight for equality–fight for equity. If you want to honor Dr. King’s legacy, don’t just pursue justice and love, pursue power and love. All power to the people.”