Those who gathered to remember the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Virginia Commonwealth University on Sunday were urged to reflect on “the fierce urgency of now” — the phrase the slain civil rights leader used as a call to action during his 1963 speech at the March on Washington.

Decades later, King’s words from his “I Have a Dream” speech resonate with Delores Kimbrough, a Chesterfield County resident who said the country continues to face conversations on how to deal with persistent segregation in schools and communities.

“The fact that those conversations continue after decades, and the need for change to happen so that everyone has the opportunity for success, to me ‘the fierce urgency of now’ speaks to that,” Kimbrough said just before the university’s event at the Cabell Library.

Jamelle Smith Wilson, the dean of the University of Richmond’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies, read an excerpt from King’s 1963 speech where he highlighted “the fierce urgency of now” and urged the country to reject “gradualism” in the fight against racial injustice.

Aashir Nasim, vice president for inclusive excellence at VCU, said King’s words were a call to move the conversation about equity, justice and fairness from simply words to action.

“The spirit of the phrase ‘the fierce urgency of now’ echoes across communities and institutions to this present day, giving energy to movements across the country to do away with barriers — barriers that are mostly contrived,” Nasim said in remarks to the roughly 60 people who attended.

During the event, which was the first in a series of events being held at the university this week to remember King, the civil rights leader’s picture was shown on the screen at the library’s lecture hall.

Eric King, a former adjunct political science professor at VCU, told those gathered for Sunday’s event that when he was 12, he met the civil rights leader.

“I’m here to honor someone who, for me, is more than just an icon,” said King, who is not related to the civil rights leader.

Nasim said one of the most important forces of change is the ability to vote.

Attendees watched a short film about Woke Vote, a group that leads get-out-the-vote efforts in several Southern states, including the 2018 ballot initiative in Florida to restore voting rights for many felons who completed their sentences.

Chuck Klink, a senior vice provost for student affairs at VCU, said it’s important to remember King at events like the one held Sunday.

“The way that he was able to convey principles and values and the work that we need to do together I think is important, especially now when there is so much partisanship,” Klink said at the event. “I think it’s especially important to kind of hang onto that and remember it.”

A list of VCU’s Martin Luther King events can be found at https://mlkday.vcu.edu.

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