Randall Robinson remembers being 15 and hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak at his school. He remembers shaking King”s hand and feeling a sense of new hope and new possibility for the future of civil rights.

“What Dr. King would have us do today is to use this opportunity, each individually, to talk about what we”re going to do to make our society better,” he said yesterday at Hale Auditorium. “He had the capacity to see through the dark shadows of time as a great visionary. He knew the greatest crime of slavery was the theft from a people of their story of themselves.”

Robinson, author of “Debt What America Owes to Blacks.” and former director of the Trans Africa Forum, stressed the importance of teaching every American the history of the people who have come before them and remembering the often lost stories of Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asians and blacks that are often forgotten.

“How can a nation be so set against telling what happened?” he asked, adding that people have a responsibility to know and to act as part of a democracy, and that as a nation, the United States, which criticizes other nations for their past actions and encourages reparations, needs to come to terms with its past. “We need to be willing to learn about things that are unpleasant. We have to remember our history.”

Robinson said the past is present in today”s society because of discrimination policies and inequalities as far as opportunities for success.

He added that the current struggle for reparations is important because it makes sure that the story gets told and that young people affected by these situations beyond their control know that what happened is not their fault.

“I am afraid that much of America is missing the development of the social crisis that in the next 50 years could bring this society down upon itself,” he said.

“A young white male has one chance in 15 of being incarcerated,” he said. “A young Hispanic man has a one in 10 chance, a young black man a one in three chance. This is the modern slavery. It goes before us and we don”t even see it.”

Robinson said the solution comes in the form of repair and not just in compensation for what was lost. He called for repair in the form of an intense focus on education and economic development. “There”s no magic to this, no real secret. We just don”t have any government commitment,” he said.

Change, he added, will have to come from the bottom up, from the young people he considers the nation”s moral compass.

University alum Arreba Stafford, who has been attending MLK symposiums for 10 years, said Robinson addressed many important issues by acknowledging a part of history that happened and still affects people today.

“He mentioned the cycle of poverty going unbroken I can relate to that,” she said. “A lot of people don”t understand how deep poverty can go and how much of an effect it can have on someone.”

Ann Arbor resident Michelle Mann, who said she has been to MLK symposiums on campus since they began, said she brought her children to Robinson”s speech so they would have a chance to understand their history first-hand.

“It”s important that they know that it”s not just a textbook struggle and that the struggle continues,” she said.

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