University of Kentucky students and staff honored the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s pacifism on Sunday with a candle-lit march past a half-dozen silently re-enacted scenes of violence, including King's 1968 assassination; the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
About 60 people joined the march and a discussion afterward led by UK historian Gerald Smith, who helped edit King's papers for publication, and Carol Taylor, social-justice educator at the UK Violence Intervention and Prevention Center.
Smith said King, while still a fledgling preacher in his early 20s, revealed in personal letters his simple eloquence and dedication to "the social gospel," which is concerned with social and economic inequality. King believed "he was to change the souls of individuals so that society might be changed," Smith said.
In her talk, Taylor warned the young black men in the room that "your very lives are at risk because of your sheer existence." She urged them to defy society's stereotypes about them by studying, working hard, treating women with respect and taking responsibility for their families.
"I need you to pull up your pants," Taylor said. "You're more than rappers, you're more than athletes, you're more than felons, you're more than inmates."
Marching among the students were several parents with young children, including UK employee Azetta Beatty, who brought her daughter Farryn, 9, and her son Christopher, 4. Farryn, a third-grader, recently wrote a school report on King's life, Beatty said.
"We talk about historical events all the time," Beatty said. "But I think it's a good idea to get them out so they can interact with people talking about what's happening now, especially the progress we've made in our country and the progress that still needs to be made."
Sunday's turnout was better than expected, said Rosalyn Robinson, assistant director of the Martin Luther King Center at UK.
"A lot of people this time of year hear about MLK and the civil-rights movement," Robinson said. "I liked being able to hone in on his commitment to nonviolence specifically and how we can alleviate violence in our own lives."