Small groups were invited to discuss diversity at the forum at Lehigh University on the civil right’s leader’s holiday.
A few dozen people marked the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday at Lehigh University by focusing on how America has changed since King’s death.
The group attended a luncheon titled “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise,” held at Lehigh University’s Packer Hall in Bethlehem. It was offered by the university and the Bethlehem National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Prior to the afternoon event, the Bethlehem NAACP also held an MLK Holiday Community breakfast at Cathedral Church of the Nativity.
Those who participated at the Lehigh discussion included students, professors, faculty members, representatives of the Bethlehem NAACP and law enforcement. They did so after watching clips of the PBS series “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise.”
Questions pondered ran the gamut from, “What experiences have you had with desegregation?; Was your school integrated or predominantly one race?”; and “Today, how integrated is the school you attended?”
Jay Glucksman, a Lehigh junior studying civil engineering, said growing up in Rye Brook, N.Y., did not offer much diversity. He specifically chose Lehigh to further his education based on its multicultural facets, he said.
“It was like one direction, one mentality, one thought,” Glucksman said about his elementary and high school years. “I came to Lehigh because it made my life more diversified. I didn’t have a chance to learn about other cultures.”
Rich Freed of the Nazareth area, who works at the Lehigh University Career Center, recalled growing up in upper Bucks County and said there was little diversity. He said “classism” also was an issue.
Today, Freed said, his children in the Nazareth Area School District also learn with very few people of color in contrast to the school systems in Easton and Bethlehem.
Lehigh athletic director Joe Sterrett noted that in South Bethlehem, churches on virtually every block provide services in various languages. He described the section of the city as a “melting pot.”
Another set of questions focused on specific neighborhoods folks grew up in, asking, “Did you experience other cultures moving in?;” “What type are you in now?;” “How are you discussing this with your children and others?”; and “What are the advantages and disadvantages of living in integrated areas?”
Sterrett said he moved six times and attended nine school districts as a kid due to his father’s corporate work schedule. He said different places in terms of equality were “eye-opening” to him.
In Atlanta, he found just one Roman Catholic church, noting, “There was a religious segregation that was pretty prominent.” Then, when he moved to the Philadelphia area and joined the basketball team, the team was “very integrated.”
“It’s interesting the reverse experiences there,” he said. “It reinforces the notion that we all have parts of our life where some measure of expression exists — it could be the clothes we choose or it could be class.”
Others reiterated there’s more hope for the future in terms of greater equality.
Ginny McSwain, a faculty member, said social media reflects diversity and urged others to “follow” or “friend” different races and groups.
“Make sure you’re following them,” she said. “Make sure you’re listening to more diverse issues.”
Esther Lee, president of the Bethlehem NAAP, said growing up in the South, no one had the discussions like those presented at the luncheon. It shows progress after King’s death, she said.
“They couldn’t be as open as we are now,” she recalled. “It was not talked about.”