Son of ‘trailblazing’ Baylor student honors King

Jed Dean | Lariat Photo Editor
Rev. Dr. Kenyatta R. Gilbert speaks on “Living Above the Mountaintop” at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Luncheon Wednesday on the fifth floor of Cashion Academic Center.

By Caitlin Giddens

He said difficult days lay ahead. But from the mountaintop, he could see the Promised Land.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words the day before his assassination. According to Rev. Dr. Kenyatta Gilbert, the son of the first black Baylor student, he was right. As a student at Baylor from 1963-1967 and as a civil rights leader and pastor in Waco, Gilbert’s father, Robert Gilbert, suffered severe discrimination and resistance to change.

At the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon, hosted by the multicultural affairs department Wednesday, Gilbert added to King’s famous words by encouraging members of the Waco community to live above the mountaintop.

“When we live over the mountaintop, we see two things,” Gilbert said. “We see despair on the ground and a providing hand to help us over the top of the mountain.”

The department of multicultural affairs partnered with 11 local organizations to host the luncheon. More than 300 guests, varying from leaders of the Waco community to Baylor faculty, attended the event.

“This is a celebration of King’s dream,” said Kelley Kimple, coordinator of the multicultural affairs department. “It is a reflection of how we are all living it out together.”

Before Gilbert spoke, Baylor Associate Chaplain Ryan Richardson performed at the luncheon, inviting the congregation to sing along to “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” This union of voices warmed the stage for Gilbert’s inspirational words.

“You honor my father and Dr. King with your presence here,” Gilbert said. “I stand here in legacy of my trailblazing father, and for all he gave to Waco.”

Gilbert followed in his father’s giant footsteps by earning his Bachelor of Arts from Baylor. He now serves as assistant professor of homiletics, the study of sermons, at Howard University School of Divinity. From studying King’s life, Gilbert explained the best way to honor the civil rights leader is to appreciate his humanity.

“Do not make King a fixed icon, because this is dishonoring his humanity,” Gilbert said. “By making him an icon, we have muddied his dream. Stop making King an icon, when God made him human.”

To honor King’s humanity and truly live above the mountaintop, Gilbert called the congregation to accept “God’s greatest expectation,” which is to love radically.

“King was dedicated to this expectation to love radically,” he said. “And it cost him his life. King was a good man, and the world wanted to rid him. Because the good man asks us to do what we don’t want to do.”

As Gilbert spoke, the Baylor Sciences Building could be seen through the window of the Cashion Academic Center, standing as a salute to future students following the path that Gilbert’s father helped pave.

“My father struggled here at Baylor,” Gilbert said. “But he wasn’t caught up in being the first black student at Baylor. He was more concerned with not being the last.”

Gilbert said living over the mountaintop requires a life commitment, comparable to that of his father and King.

“When we see the vision that God has orchestrated, it teaches us to love radically,” Gilbert said.

“It should inspire us to live better, love better and stride for better together.”