Student Stories of Today’s Human Rights Bring Martin Luther King Jr. Struggle to the Present

January 24, 2019—Newark, OH — Central Ohio Technical College (COTC) and The Ohio State University at Newark held their tenth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration on Wednesday, Jan. 16. Martin Luther King Jr. sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He said, "True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice."

His impact made significant strides, but violations of human rights still occur today. During the 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, students shared their experiences of human right violations including written, verbal or physical harassment. Five students discussed the topics of immigration, social injustice and black concerns, LGBTQ+ concerns, equality in education and human rights.

 MLK Student Panel 2019_web.jpgAs someone who moved to the continental 48 states from Puerto Rico three years ago Arnaldo Gonzalez Calero, Ohio State Newark freshman and president of Viva Cultura, can identify with those who wish to immigrate to the United States of America. He talked about his experiences of culture shock, emotional upheaval and the language barrier as someone new to the continental states. "You would be hard pressed to find a Latino today who hasn't experienced some sort of hate speech or violence, myself included," he said. "Immigrants just want to make a better life for themselves and their family. Immigrants like Albert Einstein and Joseph Pulitzer have made significant contributions to this country throughout history. Also, most United States citizens have ancestors who were immigrants, some even came here illegally," said Gonzalez Calero.

Ohio State Newark sophomore and Student Government President Roman Lee shared his personal experiences with inequality in education. After attending a public elementary school in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, Lee was tested for admittance to a private middle school just a mile away from the elementary school and was told he was extremely far behind in almost all subjects requiring him to spend his middle school years working twice as hard to catch up to his peers. While attending the private middle school and a private high school, he would talk with friends who were attending a public school just a mile or two from his and found that the opportunities for him were of a vast difference from his friends. Lee experienced bullying in relation to his family's socioeconomic status and his race. "I was told 'You're not going to make it' over and over again," he said. "I ask all of you to speak up about the injustices and inequality that still exists in our world."

Jade Davis, Ohio State Newark sophomore and president of Ebonye Horizons, echoed Lee's sentiment. Davis described instances in which she has experienced prejudice such as being followed through a store. "There are everyday injustices, small things that other people do that make those of other ethnicities feel like they are less than human," she said. "I urge everyone to continue to pursue the dream that Martin Luther King Jr. started. Continue to fight for human rights."

Parker Sloan, Ohio State Newark freshman and president of Pride Out Loud, discussed the current concerns among the LGBTQ+ community. Sloan experienced bullying and violence in high school prompting him to be an advocate for his fellow community members when he came to college. He pointed out several derogatory terms that are being used and the atmosphere of fear in the LGBTQ+ community today. His words of advice encompassed the goal of the panel. "Just be respectful. Even if you don't agree, you don't need to be disrespectful or violent," he said. "Also, educating yourself about the LGBTQ+ community, even if you are not a member of it, will help you to interact with us in a respectful way and will earn our respect."

The final student speaker of the evening, Thanh Pham, Ohio State Newark freshman and vice president of Student Government, brought to light human rights violations occurring in other nations such as his home country of Vietnam. Pham talked about his experiences in a poverty-stricken family despite both of his parents working 10 hour days, six to seven days a week. He noted how thankful he was that both worked so hard so that he, a child of seven at the time, would not have to go to work and could attend school. He described how his family lived in constant fear of violence and uncertainty because the government could take anything they owned at any time or have a family member arrested and beaten for no reason. His advice for attendees was, "Exercise your right to vote because that simple thing that so many here do not do is precious to people who don't have it."

The student panelists of the 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration each have a specific community they are advocating for, but all agreed that they should come together more often to focus on fighting for human rights in general because despite the time that has passed since Martin Luther King Jr. passed there is still more work to do.

The event was sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs at COTC and Ohio State Newark. Questions may be directed to Vorley Taylor, program director, at or 740.366.9443.

Photo caption: L-R: Thanh Pham, Roman Lee, Jade Davis, Arnaldo Gonzalez Calero, Sloan Parker

Central Ohio Technical College and The Ohio State University at Newark have forged an outstanding array of educational opportunities for the central Ohio region and beyond. This partnership is viewed as a model for higher education in the state of Ohio. At Central Ohio Technical College, students gain hands-on, applicable experience to begin working in the field, or to transfer those credits toward a bachelor's degree program. The Ohio State University at Newark offers an academic environment that's inclusive of diversity, challenging but supportive with world-renowned professors and access to Ohio State's more than 200 majors.