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OU community honors legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., influential athletes for equality

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Student Athletes

Student athletes in Sharp Hall await the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration to begin Jan. 16. The celebration was hosted by the OU Athletics Department.

Students, faculty and administration gathered Jan. 16 to remember the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor OU athletes that have been trailblazers for equality at the university.

The ceremony, which took place in Catlett Music Center's Paul F. Sharp Concert Hall, opened with a video of King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, followed by a tribute from professor emeritus George Henderson that reflected on the life and career of King, whom he saw as a friend.

Henderson reflected on the lessons about kindness and equality that King taught him and others during the civil rights movement. King emphasized the importance of love as the ultimate weapon to achieve equality for future generations, Henderson said.

“This is not the speech I’d prefer to give. I’d rather not eulogize to talk about my friend Martin Luther King Jr.,” Henderson said.

“You don’t want to stand up and eulogize the man who gave you the best weapon you ever had: love,” he said.

Henderson said the social movements of the 1950s and 1960s would not have been a success without youth, specifically college students.

“We could not have had a successful civil rights movement without college students,” Henderson said.

Henderson ended with these words: “Be the leaders that you were born to be. Be the followers you were born to be. Be someone good.”

Later, OU athletic director Joe Castiglione honored the achievements by Prentice Gautt, who was the first black man to play football at OU.

“I don’t know how many people have a true understanding of the transformational man (Gautt) really was. ... This man had spent the most important and longest period of his life doing something for others,” Castiglione said.

The ceremony also focused on other OU athletes who have been trailblazers for equality, like Teresa Turner, Wayman Tisdale, Patty Gasso and Eric Striker.

Turner, one of the first women to receive an athletic scholarship at OU, described how every first makes it easier for the next generation to reach its potential.

“My dream is that as a society, we not regress, but we continue to make progress in making sure that all people are respected, valued and given every opportunity to reach their full potential,” Turner said.

The ceremony ended with a rendition of “We Shall Overcome” sung by OU alumna Christine Hruby.

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