PBS' Ray Suarez Kicks Off JMU's MLK Celebrations

Jan 21, 2020

Former NPR and PBS host Ray Suarez spoke in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s more radical ideas on Monday at JMU.
Credit Courtesy of JMU Creative Media

In Harrisonburg, James Madison University began a week-long series of events celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Monday night [Jan. 20] with a ceremony featuring former PBS Newshour host Ray Suarez. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn Reports.

Before Ray Suarez took the stage in JMU’s Wilson Hall auditorium, he aimed to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. not for the preachings of peace for which he was best known, but rather for the uncomfortable truths King brought to light and the opposition he faced because of them.

RAY SUAREZ: We take a risk if we try to simplify King, if we try to smooth him out to forget what made him a challenge in the United States. If all he ever said was “I have a dream” and people should be judged not by the color of their character, they’re lovely sentiments, but he was a lot more than that.

In his speech, Suarez highlighted King’s more radical outcries against economic disparity in the U.S. and the Vietnam War. The resulting pushback included a suicide letter sent to him by the FBI, condemnation by President Lyndon B Johnson, and a Gallup poll which reflected a 75 percent disapproval rating in the final year of his life.

Suarez sees King’s memorial regularly on his commute into Washington D.C., a constant reminder of his legacy.

SAUREZ: Is Dr. King still yours? If you’re not Christian, if you’re not black, if you’ve never lived firsthand the deformities, the distortions, the calamities that befell America during centuries of legal discrimination, I want to tell you today that Dr. King is yours.

His speech was part of a formal event kicking off JMU’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week, which also included a presentation of the MLK Community Service Award to Harrisonburg City Councilman Chris Jones, and performances from student groups such as the JMU Contemporary Gospel Choir.

(Sound of the Gospel Choir)

This is the university’s 33rd year commemorating King with events hosted by the Center for Multicultural Student Services. According to their director, Valerie Ghant, it all started with a silent march from students back when JMU did not officially recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.

VALERIE GHANT:  MLK is a day off, but it’s really a day on, because there’s a lot of community engagement and service that takes place all day long.

Events scheduled for this week include dialogues, community service opportunities, and the annual March scheduled for this Thursday.