category: President's Blog

January 2022: The Unfolding Work of Destiny

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2022

Gardner-Webb University joins the nation in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2022.  This is a day of reflection, and it is a day of rededication.  As a society, we are all on a journey together…and there are still miles to go before we sleep.

I was less than two years old when an assassin’s bullet cut down Dr. King on April 4, 1968.  Obviously, I don’t have direct memories of his life.  Like many, however, I have been a student of the civil rights icon’s enduring legacy.  Numerous digital archives enable us to read, hear, and even watch Dr. King’s powerful sermons and speeches.  He was a master communicator, and his words still resonate—and inspire—decades later.

If you’re like me, you are taking some extra time on this special day to think about where we are as a people.  It is clear that in many ways, America in 2022 is a better place than it was in 1963 when Dr. King gave his most famous “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.  Likewise, I believe we have climbed out of the abyss in which our country found itself during the tragic and tumultuous year of 1968.  We should recognize progress when and where it occurs.

By the same token, we must always be unafraid to look in the mirror and absorb what we see.  We must also be bold enough to act on what we see.  The weight of imperfection is difficult to bear, but that is humanity’s enduring burden. 

Martin Luther King Jr standing on alter in church

Much of Dr. King’s messages addressed his observations of a broken and divided America.  In his thundering eloquence, Dr. King taught us much about our past and about our present.  What I’ve taken away from so many of his speeches, however, is Dr. King’s tenacious refusal to ignore the prospect of a brighter future.  His was an unrelenting exhortation to do better—and to be better—so that tomorrow might be a better day.   

In his 1957 speech, “A Look to the Future,” delivered in Monteagle, Tennessee, Dr. King told his audience, “And so let us go out and work with renewed vigor to make the unfolding work of destiny a reality in our generation. We must not slow up. Let us keep moving.”  That future-focused message is one for all the ages.  It is certainly one for all of us as Americans, and it is one for us as members of the Gardner-Webb family.  Work with renewed vigor to make the unfolding work of destiny a reality…

Here at home on our campus we have our own share of work to do.  I’m proud that even during a pandemic in 2021 we didn’t get so distracted that we took our eyes off of an important prize.  In February 2021, we brought together alumni and friends to have a thoughtful and candid conversation about race, which we titled “Healing the Divide:  Working Together.”  Later in the year, we were pleased to announce the creation of the Rev. Johnny and Mrs. Shirley Searight leadership certificate and scholarship program designed to accelerate opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds.  Just this December, GWU announced the launching of a new mentoring program aimed at improving the academic success rates of our minority male students.  One of the mentors helping lead that program, GWU alumnus Juan Cherry, is the featured speaker at this year’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day observance on January 18.  These are all steps in the right direction, but we should heed Dr. King’s advice: “We must not slow up.  Let us keep moving.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2022.  Let us join together to celebrate his life, his message, and his impact.  Let us recommit to working each day to constructing a better us.  While acknowledging our imperfections, let us build upon each new success…no matter how large or small.  What better place than Gardner-Webb to roll up our sleeves and to pursue our destiny…for God and for all Humanity.

Dr. William M. Downs

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