Marc Lamont Hill -- host of HuffPost Live, BET News, VH1 and author -- emphasized the importance of imagining "a world that is not yet" to a near sold-out crowd Wednesday at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau.
Special music guest Brian Owens performed his pre-speech style of 1960s and 1970s soul through "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me," to accompany the celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
As Hill took his place behind the podium, he began to echo the mindset and everyday goal of King's choosing to not react to chaos, but to instead act and effect change.
"Where do we go from here? Chaos? Or community? Dr. King wanted us to imagine the beloved community, but against the backdrop of chaos," Hill said.
He offered ideas of how the nation can begin to change its focus: embracing a radical tradition and imagination put forth by King, and refusing to constrain individual and ambitious "freedom dreams."
Never scale down dreams, he said, alluding to King's model of "radical listening."
"We live in a world where there's a whole lot of talk," Hill said. "Ain't no shortage of talkin' in America. ... In the age of the selfie, so much is centered around individual performance, projection, voices, talking ..."
King taught deep listening is both an ethical and moral project, Hill said.
To listen deeply to everyone's voice is to suggest that everyone has a story, a life and existence worth listening to, Hill said. But so often the voices of the poor, vulnerable, drug addicted, transgender, women, gay, lesbian and bisexual are muted, he said.
Hill said to not listen to just the powerful, but also for the vulnerable.
"King understood that radical and deep listening is also a tactical and political project. ... King wasn't just a negro preacher; he was one of the greatest political strategists of the 20th century."
Hill said, "As we remember King, let's not remember King as somebody who went to Washington and marched for dreams in a world where black girls and black boys can sit together at a table; that is part of King's dream, yes."
But King doesn't want black and white people sitting at the table together when one half of the table is unfree, unequal or doesn't have access to quality schools, Hill said.
King dreamed of a world where everybody at the table has equality, he emphasized.
"We can listen and dream, but we must act," Hill said. "Remember this: The biggest problem in the world today is that there are too many people who don't do anything. Radical action requires that you do something."
King didn't just give speeches -- he organized, acted and did, according to Hill.
"Let's do better," he said. "Let's be better."
Hill is the founding board member of My5th, a not-for-profit organization devoted to educating youth about their legal rights and responsibilities. He also is a board member and organizer of the Philadelphia Student Union and works with the ACLU Drug Reform Project, according to information at the university's website.
He was named as one of Ebony Magazine's 100 most influential Black leaders in America. He has received numerous prestigious awards from the National Association of Black Journalists, GLAAD and the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
Owens has appeared on Entertainment Tonight, FOX and Friends and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He also has performed at the White House.