COLUMBIA — A near-full house packed the Missouri Theatre on Wednesday night for MU's annual lecture celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.
MU alumnus Ty Christian presented MU with a replica of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which was accepted by Deputy Chancellor Mike Middleton. The event featured keynote speaker Larry Wilmore, an actor, author and television producer who works as the "senior black correspondent" on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."
*Christian, who received his bachelor's degree in radio-television-film from MU in 1977, served as the chief marketing strategist on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Project Foundation. With a team of just 15 people, he raised more than $118 million toward the completion of the project to construct the replica.
Although Christian never had the chance to meet King, he said his life was influenced by King and his teachings.
“My grandmother embodied his spirit," Christian said. "She didn’t participate in sit-ins. She didn’t do the marches, and she wasn’t hosed down by police officers. But she was consumed by the fact that she was equal.”
The planning committee for the event also honored Pamela Ingram, the founder of Granny's House, an organization that provides after-school programming to underprivileged children. Ingram received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service Award for her work.
“Me getting this award is like recognizing one spoke of a bicycle wheel," Ingram said. "I’m just the loud mouth. There are so many others who made this all possible.”
Following the exchange of awards and recognition, Wilmore offered a satirical commentary on race relations in the United States. He covered topics such as black privilege, the Obama Administration and the classification of blacks over the last two centuries. His satire surfaced when he referenced a quote by radio host Don Imus, saying, “We’ve been everything from negro to colored ... to nappy headed hoes."
He also spoke of his personal distance from the term African-American, and he shared a few candid experiences with racism throughout his life and his career.
"We are so obsessed with race in this country," Wilmore said. "People want you to be what you're supposed to be. We question people based on stereotypes of what it means to be black, but black slang doesn’t make you blacker. You didn’t hear Dr. King say, ‘Yo Yo Yo, I got a dream Bitches.'"
Wilmore intentionally pushed buttons during his speech. He touched on gay rights being compared to the civil rights movement.
“Gay is a hot issue right now, and I have a lot of empathy. But we don’t have to come out (of the closet), and they were never slaves,” he said.
Wilmore’s routine was witty and insightful, but it shed little light on the future of King’s dream. He side-stepped most questions during the Q-and-A session with subtle comedy, gestures, laughter or no answer at all.
“I’m disappointed that he was chosen to speak at an event honoring the legacy of Dr. King," Jamal Andress, a senior at MU, said. "While I appreciated his comedy and humor, it wasn’t appropriate, and it really lost sight of why we gathered — which was to celebrate his dream and to inspire more change.”