Hill Harper Speaks at MLK Luncheon Monday

Jessie Hellmann

The first time Hill Harper visited Southern Indiana, he was not greeted with the “southern hospitality” we so often boast.

In fact, he was greeted with the same horrific and embarrassing manner with which African Americans were treated in the Civil War days.

While visiting New Harmony, Ind., upon invitation to see a play, he ventured out of his hotel room to the downtown pharmacy to get a bottle of water.

On his way out of the pharmacy, a pickup truck pulled up alongside the road, and someone bellowed “NIGGER” out of the window. Heart sinking, he continued on his way only to have the same word yelled at him by a couple of kids on their bicycles.

And with this, Harper was left with the impression that New Harmony, Ind. is not so harmonious.

This is the type of behavior Martin Luther King Jr. died trying to eradicate. Star of television’s “CSI: NY”, acclaimed author and Harvard Law graduate Harper Hill, 44, visited Evansville Monday morning to deliver a message of hope and courage, attempting to instill a new fire in the citizens of this small, Ohio River city.

Navigating his way through the sea of more than 325 people, Harper dove right in avoiding the sugar-coated speech that many would expect on such a celebratory occasion.

“The differences we see in terms of educational achievement and what’s going on in our public schools, particularly with African American males, I believe Dr. King would be appalled.”

However, his speech was not directed at the African American demographic but the entire Evansville community.

Quoting King, “We are all tied together in a garment of a mutual destiny,” Harper said.

“If you’re not doing well, I’m not doing well, because we’re tied. Even though you may be in Evansville, Indiana, if 73 out of 100 young African-American men in Baltimore aren’t graduating, then you aren’t doing well either.”

He reiterated, “And it begs the question… What would Dr. King be working on now?”

Harper explained fear as “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

He believes that fear is what stops most people from accomplishing their goals.

“Some of us work so hard to impress people we don’t really care about.”

With this statement, a gentle hush covered the crowd.

He explained that true courage to him is acting and living from ones’ heart. However, he believes that many people are too enveloped in fear to chase their dreams.

“Fear is in here”, Harper said, gesturing to his head, and with a similar motion towards his heart, “Courage is here.”

He assured the audience that the future does not belong to the fearful.

“It belongs to those who live through passion, energy, reason and courage.”

USI president Linda Bennett found herself relating to the message.

“Every one of us can sit here and think of a moment in time when we really wanted to do something but (thought) what would my family think? What would my friends think?” Bennett said. “And we stop ourselves. And then we regret it for the longest time.”

President of the Student Government Association Hope Fussner said that Harper shone a light about how things can be in the world.

“I think the speech was amazing. He made great points that anyone could understand and relate to,” Fussner said. 

“He was correct in saying that we need to just stand up and break out and not just keep quiet. We need to work for equality.”