TTU Minority Affairs director speaks about personal significance of MLK Day

“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

That quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is featured on a poster in Tennessee Tech University’s Office of Minority Affairs, and while the Civil Rights leader’s life is officially celebrated this year on Jan. 21, the quotation illustrates that his legacy can be emulated anytime.

Robert Owens, TTU’s Minority Affairs director, knows that perhaps better than anyone else on campus.

His position gives him the opportunity to participate in events both on campus and in the community to honor King’s legacy and to teach others about the importance of observing the holiday.

“Last February was my first Black History Month as director of TTU’s Minority Affairs Office, and for several presentations in observance of that, I chose to recite speeches given by Dr. King,” Owens said.

The experience gave him new insight into the practices and motivations of the slain Civil Rights leader, he said.

“When I sat down by myself and read his speeches in preparation for those presentations, it gave me an opportunity to really see into his heart, and what I realized is that he was somebody who wanted to help people no matter what.

“Realizing the magnitude of what he did — his willingness to put his life on the line for the cause — ignited a fire in me that will never be extinguished,” Owens said.

As a husband and father himself now, Owens continued, he has an even greater respect for the courage King exhibited.

“When I was a student at TTU — even as a graduate student — I took a lot of this history for granted because I didn’t have to protest against segregation or march for freedom like the generation that came before me,” he said, “but being in this position has helped me realize how important history is in order to make progress for the future.

“It’s helped me realize that my life wouldn’t be what it is today if it hadn’t been for the work and courage of Dr. King,” Owens continued.

“I better understand the significance of just being able to come and go freely from any store or restaurant, to ride any bus in Montgomery, Ala., or anywhere else, and to have a casual conversation with anyone I choose,” he said.

“I likely wouldn’t have the job I do if it hadn’t been for Dr. King,” Owens said.

Being director of TTU’s Minority Affairs Office, however, not only enhances his knowledge and understanding of the Civil Rights movement, but it also allows Owens to more easily pass that knowledge and understanding on to others.

“I have no doubt that the holiday honoring Dr. King’s life is worthy of being observed, and I’m glad that my job allows me to do whatever I can to ensure that it is,” he said.

Among the campus and community activities Owens and/or his department will be participating in throughout the week in observance of the holiday include:

• A silent march and moment of silence honoring King at 11:06 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Sponsored by TTU’s chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha, the historically black fraternity of which King was a member, the march will begin on the lawn of Walton House, TTU’s presidential home, and end on the campus’ Main Quad, in front of Derryberry Hall.

The march will be followed by Minority Affairs’ monthly professional development presentation. Electrical engineer Quincy Jones, who works for the Tennessee Valley Authority, will give the Jan. 22 presentation, and his topic will be “Making Money in America.”

• Viewing of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and documentary about his life at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in the Leona Lusk Officer Black Cultural Center, located on the second floor of the Roaden University Center.

Short presentations by various minority student leaders at TTU will follow, and light refreshments will be served.

TTU’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a historically black sorority, will also create a collage to be displayed in the Black Cultural Center through next week.

• Presentation and storybook reading by Owens about Dr. King’s childhood to preschoolers and after school program participants at Cookeville’s Creative Learning Child Care at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 24.

As part of a grant administered through the Upper Cumberland Child Care Resource and Referral Center to discourage children from using drugs, the Putnam County presentation is one of several projects throughout the Upper Cumberland region commemorating King’s legacy or presenting some other after-school program.

It will also include a “Let Freedom Ring” banner, which will be created by the children and displayed in the Putnam County Library through February.

“Mr. Owens did a spectacular job with the kids last year,” said Betty Vaudt, director of the CCRR.

Owens said he’s excited about all of this year’s events.

“The further removed we get from that time, the easier it is for us to forget the seriousness of the Civil Rights movement, but we have lots of students participating in the various activities this year, and I’m proud to see that level of student involvement,” he said.

The TTU activities are all free and open to the public. For more information, call TTU’s Minority Affairs Office at 931/372-3392.

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