Interactive conversation honoring MLK encourages students to stand up for their beliefs

Guest speakers honoring Martin Luther King Jr. last week encouraged Tech students to keep the civil rights leader’s dream alive by standing up for their rights and the rights of others.

The Rev. Stephen Handy of Nashville said Americans are becoming so complacent they do not know what action to take or words to say, so they just sit and behave.

“We have to behave as if we are on this journey to disrupt the forces of evil because there are forces of evil all around us,” Handy said. 

Handy joined fellow civil activist Justin Jones in addressing hundreds of students at Derryberry Hall on Jan. 21 as part of three days of events in Cookeville honoring King.

Center Stage organizers decided to change this year’s event from a traditional keynote speaker to an interactive conversation involving audience members.

 Tech Professor Andrew Smith, a lifelong King follower who teaches his work and philosophy, served as the discussion’s moderator.

Smith opened up the evening’s discussion with the question “where has Dr. King's dream been deferred, denied or derailed?”

Handy is the senior pastor of McKendree United Methodist Church in Nashville Tennessee and has obtained multiple degrees including an MDiv from Vanderbilt Divinity School.

“We live in a time where people are talking about taking this country back, and we have to start believing that they are taking us back to a time that we don’t want to go to,” Jones said.

Like Handy, Jones is currently obtaining a degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School and has already earned a degree from Fisk University.

Handy and Jones are not only civil rights activists but also advocate for restoring justice to the poor and needy by fighting for their healthcare, fair treatment and to eliminate poverty.

As a pastor in Nashville, Handy said he is face-to-face with the homeless problem every day.

Handy said across from his church there is a $130 million, 45-story building but another block over, there is a homeless park slated to be replaced by a condominium therefore displacing the people living there.

“I can be quiet, or I can say something,” Handy said. “I know if I am quiet, what am I saying about those who have been silenced?” 

Smith closed up the discussion by posing a question about the fear of standing up for beliefs. Both Jones and Handy reflected on King’s work and encouraged attendees to think about standing up for future generations’ rights now. 

“I’ll give it to you in a few words: image bearer, reconciler, visionary, collaborator, freedom fighter,”  Handy said about King.