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‘His dream is still alive’: Silver Oak students, speakers celebrate Martin Luther King’s legacy

KEYMAR — On Tuesday night, the students and faculty of Silver Oak Academy, along with members of the community, gathered for the school’s annual Martin Luther King Celebration.

The event brought an array of presentations, talks and music, including Robert Young, who teaches history at Carroll Community College, sharing his memory of King — whose murder was tied to Young’s own political and historical awakening.

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“I was 9 years old when Dr. King was killed, but I remember that day … it’s the first image I have of the front page of a newspaper,” Young said. “It was a warm April 9 and we had a thunderstorm. We had the front door open ... the rain was coming in the front door and you could smell the storm. Then the newspaper came and I saw what had happened … it froze in my memory.”

King’s legacy, as Young came to understand it in time, is tied directly to the principle of nonviolent protest.

“If you are violent toward someone who is violent towards you, that just gives them an excuse to be more violent toward you,” Young said, and added that in contemporary protests, a single broken window by a protester will be seized upon by detractors, killing the message protesters wish to convey.

President of Carroll Community College James Ball told those gathered that he considered himself lucky to have lived when King did.

“He preached nonviolence, he stuck to that message and gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Ball said. “You’re a human. We’re all humans. We need to respect each other. … That’s what he was about.”

Keynote speaker Carlos Ojeda told his story of coming to understand King’s dream. Ojeda grew up in a poor Puerto Rican neighborhood in Newark, New Jersey, but his parents moved him to Reading, Pennsylvania after he witnessed a murder on his street when he was just 10.

Initially placed in a stagnant, unhelpful bilingual class despite being fluent in English, Ojeda said he got into trouble over the years, until a few adults showed they believed in him, guided him into taking the SATs and getting into college.

But first came something that even teachers had told him would never happen — he would graduate high school and hold a diploma in his hand. That day, Ojeda said, was the only time he saw his father cry, just before they embraced.

“That was the moment I understood Dr. King’s dream,” Ojeda said. “No mater how rough the road was before, it can’t possibly compare to the hopes and dreams that lie ahead.”

It’s the seventh year for the program, according to coordinator Sheila Leatherbury, and has its roots in her work teaching at Silver Oak.

“I have two world history classes, and they were doing projects on Martin Luther King. They had to pick essays to do,” she said. "They are learning about his contribution, his legacy. They are learning about how his assassination affected the country, the civil rights movement. They are learning all that.”

Leatherbury thought holding a program would be a good way to display her students’ projects — they are still displayed in the Silver Oak lobby during the program — and once she decided to open them to the whole school, she decided to open the program to the whole community as well.

“I want his legacy to remain alive. I just want to them to come away, especially our youth, with the fact that his dream is still alive with us,” she said. “That the discrimination factor is there, it’s always going to be there, but the fact is we still can achieve Dr. King’s dream.”

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