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The Oregonian: Portland preacher to deliver keynote at Portland State's tribute to MLK
Author: Anne Saker, The Oregonian
Posted: January 17, 2012

See the article in The Oregonian: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2012/01/portland_preacher_to_deliver_k.html

The last thing a busy church pastor needs is another speaking engagement. But the Rev. W.G. Hardy couldn’t say no to Portland State University’s invitation to deliver the keynote address Thursday for the school’s weeklong commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hardy, 54, is a Portland native and graduate of Franklin High School, where he was the first African American drum major. From 1986 until 2001, he was a light-rail engineer for Tri-Met. For nearly 16 years, he has led Highland Christian Center in Northeast Portland.
 
He talked by phone this week about King’s message and his own. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
 
Q: What makes this speech important to you?

A: Portland State University for me is symbolic. The first time I ever heard an articulate, polished, professional African American speak was at Portland State. I was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, and I never knew that an African American could actually do that. It was Ronny Herndon. At that time, every person I saw of power was European. TV celebrities were European. Politicians were European. Seeing (Herndon) up on a stage speaking was a pivotal point to me: I could be African American and not have to negotiate quality or integrity.

Q: What do you bring to this occasion that no one else does?

A: I’m a native of Portland. Over my 54 years, I’ve seen how our community has changed. I’ve gone through busing, the aftermath of the Vanport flood, the gentrification. I know what it’s like to be integrated into the predominant culture. My house of worship is in the community of color, but I know what it was like to survive in both worlds, when both worlds were accepting and when they weren’t.

Q: What is the meaning of King’s message today?

A: The meaning is that we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. And the only way we’ll get there is if we do it together. That’s the reason why he chose love as a platform, because love transcends race, age, orientation. Love is unbiased. When you really love, you look past the flaws and blemishes and look to what we can achieve. We’ve put a lot of focus on being politically correct, and we spend a lot of time talking about power. But power is still not love.  I think Martin Luther King would still say we’ve come a long way but really, if we really love, we could see we could do a whole lot more.

Q: Is King’s message resonating with young people?

A: Yes and no. This generation now is more captivated by Jay-Z, Tupac (Shakur) and Michael Jackson than they are by Martin Luther King. Many of them have settled for the surface rewards of Dr. King’s sacrifice. The sad part is they feel like they have arrived and almost have a sense of entitlement. They don’t understand.

Q: Would King’s message have carried the same weight if he hadn’t been a man of the cloth?

A: I don’t think so. Because the journey is a spiritual experience. One cannot change on the outside until he is changed on the inside, and the change on the inside is spiritual. The internal organs are not changed, but it’s a paradigm shift that happens internally. Until you have the spiritual experience, you’re not willing to stand for anything because you’re not willing to die for something.

Q: How do you prepare to deliver a speech?

A: I speak from my heart for the most part, and I write around those subjects. I’m in the process of putting it together even now, and I go into contemplative meditative reflection about what I’m going to speak and how I’m going to speak. I will speak about what is it truly like to be an African American living in the Pacific Northwest having been influenced by Rev. King.

-- Anne Saker, Twitter @dwtnPDXreporter