Commission on Human Rights
Human Rights director urges college students to keep Martin Luther King’s dream alive
FRANKFORT – John J. Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, today, told about 100 university students and Frankfort, Ky. community members that even with the inauguration of America’s first African American president on January 20, the quest for equality in the nation is not over.
Johnson gave the keynote address this afternoon at the Kentucky State University Bradford Hall Auditorium for the Commemorative Convocation honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism,” he said.
The human rights executive director shared that many people who have spent their lives fighting for equal rights in America thought the election of an African American president might not occur in their lifetimes. “This presidential election marks an almost indescribable triumph over the struggles and heartaches people have endured from the very beginning of this nation in the quest for racial equality and human dignity,” he said.
He said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been elated about Obama’s victory not only for African Americans but also for all Americans. “But he would have reminded us to stay vigilant and to use this opportunity to work together and make the dream of democracy completely real,” he said.
Johnson congratulated the leadership of KSU President Mary Sias and urged students to support her in the work of ensuring that the school continues to stand for civil rights in Kentucky. “Since 1886, this university has stood as a beacon of light and a symbol of hope,” he said. “Kentucky takes great pride in the school and the students who graduate from KSU to move onward and upward to make their mark for a better world,” he said.
Johnson advised Kentuckians to work together even harder now that an African American president is in office. “We should embrace this time to ensure that we do our parts and get involved, speaking out and standing up against the lingering effects of the past practices of government-sanctioned discrimination, bigotry and racism.
He cited examples of related problems including:
- results of the 2008 Democratic Primary exit polls showing 20 percent of Kentucky voters considered race to be a major factor in voting for a candidate;
- census statistics revealing that:
- 15 percent of white Kentuckians live in poverty compared to 30 percent of black Kentuckians,
- 67 percent of white Kentucky families own homes compared to only 43.16 percent who are black Kentucky homeowners,
- While African Americans make up approximately 7.5 percent of the state population, African American children account for 43 percent of the total amount of children in public assistance programs.
Johnson also reported that Kentucky Department of Education statistics reveal in the 1953-54 school year, 6.8 percent of the state’s teachers were African American, but in the 2007 school year, the percentage dropped to 3.7 percent.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is the state government agency that enforces the Kentucky Civil Rights Act and the policies of federal civil rights laws, all of which make discrimination illegal.