YOUNG PEOPLE CAN HELP U.S. FULFILL PROMISE: KING SPEAKER
Bluffton University students are part of a generation that holds the most hope yet "of making our national creed a reality," a longtime civil rights and racial reconciliation activist said at Bluffton Jan. 18.
Today’s young people constitute "a post-racial generation," according to John Perkins, the speaker at the university’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Forum. Americans should be "rejoicing" at having their first black president, he asserted, saying the United States can now possibly become the "one nation" the Founding Fathers desired.
Perkins, 80, who grew up in poverty as a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, described the U.S. Constitution as "one of the greatest statements of dignity in the world." But "no sooner than the ink was dry, they were importing slaves," he added, decrying the lack of understanding that God created humans to be stewards and to recognize the dignity of everyone.
The vision set forth by the framers of the Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence before it, was still unfulfilled nearly 200 years later, Perkins noted, recalling King’s "I Have a Dream" speech during the March on Washington in August 1963. He cited King’s reference to the "promissory note" signed by the Founding Fathers when they wrote the nation’s two most enduring documents—a guarantee of unalienable rights for all Americans but a note on which the nation had defaulted to citizens of color, the late civil rights leader said.
The current generation of young people can change that, said Perkins, suggesting that they need to form community and to get off "the treadmill of upward mobility," moving away from consumerism and toward helping the poor.
Community and family are "broken" in the U.S., he maintained, citing the divorce rate and the percentage of children born out of wedlock as examples. For a place to start fixing them, he recommended Matthew 22:37, where Jesus says loving God and then one’s neighbor are the greatest commandments. That instruction, Perkins said, "is a community commandment."
Americans have become too materialistic and self-centered, when they should be caring more for those around them who are in pain, he said. Young people should go where those people are and share with them, he added, and more fortunate Americans should scale back their lifestyles to help the poor have a better chance in life. "That’s what I’ve given my life to," said Perkins.
He and his wife Vera Mae founded Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mendenhall, Miss., and, in 1982, Harambee Christian Family Center in Pasadena, Calif. The following year, joined by a few friends and other supporters, they established the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development Inc. in Jackson, Miss.
"The world is looking for people with conviction," he said, noting the examples of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela. "That’s what the Christian church is about—how we live."
"People have to come to Christ through us."
Bluffton public relations, 1/19/11