Actor, author Hill Harper honors MLK in speech

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 | 11:05 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said everyone is tied together in a single garment of destiny. Hill Harper heard that message, meshed it with his own and brought it to Columbia in hopes of inspiring young people to be courageous and proactive.

"I think the biggest obstacle facing young people today is themselves because they’ve been told their whole lives that they can’t change the world, that what they’ve been handed is what they have to accept, which just isn’t true," Harper said.

During his speech, Harper spoke about living with courage and understanding connections to one another. He was invited by the Chancellor's Diversity Initiative at MU to speak in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Wednesday evening at the Missouri Theatre.

Harper is a best-selling author, actor and youth advocate. He graduated from Brown University and earned a graduate degree from Harvard University. He has acted on television series "CSI: New York" and is the creator of his own foundation, Manifest Your Destiny, which encourages young people to realize their potential. 

He spoke to a full room about applying King's message in the modern world.

"We need to find the spirit and energy of Dr. King, and it needs to rub off on us so that we aren’t ignorant of those who need our care," Harper said.

MU freshman Haven Morris came to see Harper speak because of his positive effect on today's youth.

"I came because I've followed his organization, Manifest Your Destiny, and I really like the message that he gives to young kids," Morris said.

Harper said everyone in the world is tied together and equally responsible for both its successes and its failures. By challenging his listeners to expand their immediate circle of care, he hopes to minimize ignorance and inspire change.

He specifically said people in prison are in the deepest need of care and attention. He said that if King were still alive, he would be most concerned about the high levels of incarcerated people in the U. S. today.

"I believe if Dr. King were here today he would be leading marches to protest the incarceration rate," Harper said. "Poverty, not race, links together incarcerated people. We should be ashamed of our criminal justice system in this country, and we are all to blame."

Helping people realize they are all a part of a bigger picture is just one of Harper's messages. As a youth advocate, he speaks to young people about reaching their potential and living without fear.

Harper is quick to note that living a courageous life like King's is not about living without fear, but instead turning that fear into a positive change.

"It’s about knowing you’re afraid and doing it anyway," he said.

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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