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Open letter to the Board of Trustees

On Monday, Jan. 21, the College engaged in its annual celebration of MLK Day.  As part of the celebration, President Sarah Bolton provided some heartfelt remarks focusing on the theme of the day, “Chaos or Community.” She focused on the need for personal transformation to make ourselves more tolerant and accepting of others — all others- — a theme stressed by Martin Luther King, Jr.  As King observed, all the laws in the world cannot create community without a change of the human heart.

President Bolton was followed by the day’s keynote speaker, Darnell Moore. In the midst of a powerful presentation, he noted that over the years, MLK celebrations had become largely symbolic events with little real commitment to the deeper principles and reforms that Dr. King advocated.

In this context, it must be remembered that King wanted more than the transformation of the human heart.  He also understood that true community, his “beloved community, ” also required a radical restructuring of the social structures as well.

In the final months of his life, his attention shifted to what he saw as the greatest barrier to true community — a level of economic inequality that trapped many in poverty and many more in an endless state of economic insecurity. King was assassinated in Memphis where he was supporting a livable wage for striking sanitation workers and at the time of his death, he was in the midst of planning the Poor People’s March on Washington.

Aware of the suffering caused by our massive economic inequality and realizing that true community cannot exist under such conditions, Dr. King advocated for a universal guaranteed annual income for all United States citizens and families.  He was quite clear that only when all persons had the economic resources to be full participants in American society could true community emerge.

With President Bolton, I, too, want to choose community over chaos for our College “community.” Such community cannot exist, however, when some members of our “community” are paid poverty or near poverty wages; when some, must work a second job just to pay for basic necessities, and many more live with month to month financial insecurity.  This exists in a “community” where others are paid exceedingly well. We will never truly be a community as long as such a profound discrepancy exists and as long as many of our lowest paid community members are reluctant to speak out about working conditions, the burdens of understaffing and inadequate salaries.

If we are going to continue to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., it is time to make it more than simply a symbolic celebration.  Those of us who are generously paid must undergo the internal transformation that Dr. King advocated so that we might act to assure that all in our community are paid a living wage, and we must commit ourselves to a restructuring so that all who work at the College are adequately paid.  

 “And I submit that nothing will be done until people of good will put their bodies and souls in motion.”

Chuck Kammer

The James F. Lincoln Professor of Religious Studies

 

Dr. Charles Kammer III, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at CKammer@wooster.edu.

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