In April 1968, I was a junior studying history at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. On the spring evening of April 4th, we learned that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been fatally shot in Memphis. Dr. King was in Memphis to lead a march with the sanitation workers (garbage collectors) in an effort to gain them better wages and benefits.
That April night, Pittsburgh started burning — from the Hill District, the predominately African-American neighborhood; to downtown, the central business district and site of major banks, retails stores and general commerce. Pittsburgh was on fire!
Homes and businesses on the Hill were destroyed and the fires spread to downtown. Duquesne was just a few blocks from the fires, the violence and the chaos. Long pent-up anger and hostility exploded. Fear permeated the core of the city. The days and weeks following caused many of us to ask the question: Will this chaos be a permanent presence? No!
As an officer of our University’s Student Congress, I began conversations with fellow students and my faculty members, in particular Dr. Margaret Milliones, an African-American sociologist.
We reached out to our neighbors on the Hill, downtown business leaders and residents of East Liberty. We organized a race-relations weekend at Duquesne. Our efforts brought together members of both “town” and “gown” for a black/white dialogue. Dr. King’s last book before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, was the centerpiece of our conversations. In his book, Dr. King offers political and economic steps toward creating a “Beloved Community” where all enjoy the nation’s abundance.
Almost 50 years later, I still believe that “Beloved Community” is possible.
This new year is a critical one for us as a nation. I wake up every day more determined than ever to give my energies and my best efforts to building the “Beloved Community.”
Will you join me? The God-inspired Courageous Conversations movement in Georgetown is our attempt to create that community where ALL means ALL!
— Dr. Ron Swain
Convener, Courageous Conversations GTX