Detroit — Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a crowd gathered for a Martin Luther King Jr. tribute on Friday that the civil rights movement is not over and the time to fight for equality has come again.
“No matter who sits in the White House, when it comes to the country, this is still our house,” said Lynch said as the keynote speaker for Wayne State University’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center.
“We have the power and will keep the promise of American alive for all us. … We don’t need anybody’s permission to believe in equality … to vote, to build bridges … to reject hatred and bigotry.
“What we do need is the commitment and moral courage to do what is right even when it is hard. We think the struggle is over, but we are living it now.”
Lynch, the first black woman to be appointed U.S. attorney general, said civil rights anniversaries, such as the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination this April, are reminders of the tough path walked before and will need to be walked again.
She spoke of King’s speech in Grosse Pointe in March 1968 in which he talked about “the other America.”
“He could have been talking about today. The challenge for all of us is what are we going to do to bridge that divide?” Lynch said.
“The wounds have been reopened. It feels as if we have gone back in time. We are in a period of history we thought had been resolved.”
The former attorney general encouraged people to serve, vote and participate in their communities. Lynch reminded the crowd that when people such as King took a stand, they weren’t always supported by their communities in the beginning.
“In Grosse Pointe, he was heckled. During the speech, one man came down and spoke in the middle of his speech. King let him speak, illustrating he was a much better Christian than me. It was a struggle,” she said.
“People in the middle of the struggle didn’t know if they were going succeed or live from one day to the next. But they did not stop.”
While talking to middle and high school students on stage at the event, Lynch said to follow one’s passion but also try everything.
“Find what’s in your heart, and it will give back to you,” she said.
Students asked what obstacles she faced, Lynch said there were many.
“There will be a point in time that you will be first. Obstacles are there for everybody. The view that you aren’t supposed to be in this type of job. You have to push that aside and live in your own reality,” she said.
Chanel Taylor, 20, a second-year college student at Wayne State University, said Lynch has inspired her to consider a run for public office someday.
“For me, as a young black woman, she is such an amazing example of what is possible when you work hard and when you stay devoted. This day was monumental because it showed me that I want to be a public servant,” Taylor said. “It was important for me to see this is something I can aspire to.”
The program, the 18th MLK tribute that Wayne State has sponsored since 1997, featured poetry and music by local high school students as well as performances by Wayne State’s Black Dance Ensemble, “To Sagana.”
Past speakers include Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, retired judge and civil rights leader Damon J. Keith, organizer and author Van Jones and former astronaut Mae Jemison.
“We are thrilled to be joined by an attorney general who herself has been a trailblazer, history maker and staunch defender of King’s dream of justice and equality for all Americans,” Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson said.
“Now as much as ever, it is critical that we all reaffirm our commitment to these values, which remain firmly at the core of Wayne State’s mission.”
Parent Shantalea Johns, 34, comes to the MLK event every year to get recharged and motivated. She brought her 9-year-old and 7-year-old children to the event.
“It was very timely and inspiring,” she said of the event. “One of the great things she said was following your passion and taking what we have learned in the past and to influence what we do in the future.”