More of Us Should Have Been There
Dean Elmore reflects on the man who changed his life
On Sunday, Dean of Students Kenn Elmore was among the 10,000 people who came together on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the dedication of the new national memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. The dean reports on his experience below.
I made it and I was so happy that I had to call my parents. In the 1960s, they had made a long journey from debilitating racism in the South to a different set of struggles in Brooklyn. I had to let my folks know that I made it, I was safe, and I was there for them.
You should have been there to feel the power of the meet-up, revel in the music, and think together about the purpose. I sat with thousands of people on the Washington Mall. We had all come to celebrate the return of Martin Luther King, Jr. We were there for the dedication ceremony of the recently installed Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and monument. I looked out at the crowd, listened to the music, and caught the spirit. It brought me to tears.
Why start my day at 5 a.m. for a good spot in a crowd to listen to speeches and music for four hours? How could I be moved by people I didn’t even know—especially a man I’d never met? Why travel such a long way for just a moment? One word: relevance.
More of us should have been there.
I am a testament to the power of young people for change. Dr. King and young people gave me a world where I could thrive. I am a true descendant of the young women and young men who asked us: is this who we are? They were true democrats who fought, sat, sang, voted, carried signs, and stood their ground so I could get an education, live a middle-class life, and have control of my life. Dr. King and these young people knew how to rip, remix, and share the best of Truth’s truth, Lincoln’s words, Matthew’s stories, Thoreau’s lessons, and Gandhi’s soul. The old standards still hold lessons today. Dr. King dropped the baseline to occupy moments that continue to be sampled.
I was there because I wanted to be counted as one of Dr. King’s people, who still believe in his radical ideas: that we can be our best selves, that love is a real and can be a powerful strategy for change, that poverty is unacceptable, and that we can end war—ideas that we revisit often.
Every movement needs a few beats. On my train ride to D.C., I thought of the people who went to the March on Washington in 1963. Old-timers told me how they’d packed food and music. I made a playlist for the new journey: Marvin; Jackie Wilson; Erica Badu; the Roots; Public Enemy; the Clash; Pac; and Aretha. I was there to feel the music. Every American should stand in a crowd on the National Mall and sing. On Sunday, we stood together—touching—and sang the “National Anthem” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” Many of us wept. It didn’t matter how we sounded; what mattered is that we were heard together. It sounded like celebration. It was collective joy. It sounded like pride—pride that my country made the choice to put a spotlight on its people via a tribute to Dr. King.
I needed to be at this dedication, standing near one of the places of Dr. King’s calling, for the moral significance. Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) was one of ours—a Terrier, an American, a person of the world. I have a privilege—to be dean of students at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s university. I owe Dr. King and plenty of young people along the way, many who were students at the time, my deep love and appreciation.
More of us should have been there. Next time, let’s go together.
Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) can be reached at email@example.com Comments