BLACKSBURG - Thirty members of the Christian Knights of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan brought their strong message of racism and hatred to the town of Blacksburg this past Sunday, on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday commemoration.
Before the KKK march, 500 people turned out for a "Celebration of Unity" in Virginia Tech's Burruss Hall and extended a much more positive spirit of acceptance and togetherness to those who gathered there.
Virginia Tech officials were concerned there might be a violent confrontation with Klan members when black student leaders hinted at the possibility. All students and community members were urged to boycott the march.
The "Celebration of Unity" allowed everyone to come together in a positive environment, free from negative feelings of hostility and barriers of misunderstanding.
Virginia Tech officials and leaders of the university's black, Jewish and homosexual communities denounced all forms of prejudice and instead spoke of coming together to change the attitudes and behavior that perpetuate prejudiced beliefs.
The Reverend Al Payne, Counselor Emeritus for Religious Affairs, led the audience in a prayer of unity and challenged everyone to make an effort to change the behavior that makes fear and barriers of division a part of our society.
"This group can set an example," he said. "On campus, there are differences of opinion between Jews and Arabs, between men and women... these disagreements are a part of our culture. But today we can serve as an appropriate example of how to handle such situations."
Randy Lucas, Chair, Black Organizations Council, advised the audience not to dwell on the KKK march, but to move on to accomplish better and brighter things. "The Creator gives us so much," he said. "When we use that gift to go out and hate there is something wrong with us."
Lucas said that, like Martin Luther King, Jr. he has a dream. His vision focuses on a time when young black and white children will have to visit the library together to look up words like racism and prejudice, because these things will no longer exist as we know them.
The speakers lead the audience in prayers and songs that spoke of a day when all men and women will work side by side and guard each other's dignity. But the black students that attended the service realized that, even after the march, they will still have to deal with the ugly prejudice that supremist groups perpetuate.
"We must realize that we have a long, tough road to follow," said Mark Walker, President of the Virginia Tech Chapter of the NAACP. "We must practice the love and unity the Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of."
Julia Gee, a senior at Virginia Tech, enjoyed the service to promote unity, but she did not believe that Virginia Tech took a strong enough stance against the KKK march. "When I first found out that the KKK was marching in this town, I felt angry, and frustrated," she said. "I felt personally insulted."
Gee admitted that she has had to deal with racism on campus or at campus parties. "I don't feel comfortable here," she said. "I would like to see more open communication between all students, whites and blacks. I was just disappointed that the university did not take a much stronger stance to let everyone know that they do not condone racism."