Kyles encourages students to dream

WORTHINGTON -- The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles took his wife to Tahiti for their anniversary and got bumped up to first class. He spoke of the free drinks and food, the clear blue sky and white clouds, and the pajamas brought to them at 11 p.m. Les...

WORTHINGTON -- The Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles took his wife to Tahiti for their anniversary and got bumped up to first class. He spoke of the free drinks and food, the clear blue sky and white clouds, and the pajamas brought to them at 11 p.m. Less than nine hours later, the plane landed in Tahiti.

"There is a person on a flight called the flight engineer," Kyles said. "He gets airplanes from point A to point B."

Kyles explained the flight engineer has to reroute during the flight, going over, under or around bad weather, but never going back and always landing at the right place.

"You have to have a life plan so you don't land just anywhere," Kyles told the high school and college students at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus.

Kyles, an eyewitness to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the only person still living to have spent the last hour of life with King, visited Minnesota West Tuesday with a message for the students.


"I intend to be brief, no matter how long it takes," Kyles said, causing laughter to ripple through the gymnasium. "I want to talk to you about the power of a dream."

The audience was made up of high school students from several school districts, college students, staff and faculty and other interested individuals, ranging in age from 17 to 70, but Kyles focused most of his remarks toward the students.

"Dreamers make the world go around," Kyles said. "They see things others don't see and hear things others don't hear."

He encouraged the students to hold fast to their dreams and be the best they can be.

"If you allow your dreams to die, you are like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly," Kyles said. "Much sooner than you think, you are going to be in charge of everything the adults are in charge of now."

He challenged the students to clean up the environment his own generation had marred while working on finding a better solution to war -- and to keep dreaming, too.

"The Wright brothers told people they were going to invent the airplane, and people said 'Yeah, right, you guys are flying already,'" Kyles said. "One day they flew their airplane, and the rest is history."

There are footprints on the moon and a space station with human beings living in it, Kyles reminded the students.


"Martin Luther King had a dream that was as far away as the airplane," he added. "He had the audacity to dream his four children would be judged by their actions instead of the color of their skin.

"Look what happened. In less than 150 years we went from it being illegal to learn to read to the Secretary of State being an African-American. Where Condoleezza Rice goes, they say 'Yes, Madame Secretary, no Madame Secretary.' She's got her own airplane."

Kyles asked the students if they thought garbage workers had dreams. He spoke of the background of the strike of the sanitation workers that brought Martin Luther King into Memphis, Tenn., on April 3, 1968.

"That last speech he made almost didn't happen," Kyles said. "There were tornado warnings, thunder and lightning and rain."

King told Jesse Jackson, Ralph Abernathy and Kyles to go have the strike-related meeting at a Memphis church without him. When they got to the church and found a full house, they called King and asked him to come.

Kyles said King didn't really pick a topic that night -- he just spoke from his heart. He spoke of his plane being under guard, of the death threats he had received and of the time he was stabbed with a letter opener.

"He told us he had seen the Promised Land," Kyles said. "He wanted to soften it for us, so he told us he may not get there. He never thought he'd live to be 40. He was 39 when the bullet hit him."

Abernathy, King and Kyles spent an hour in King's hotel room that evening after the speech talking "preacher talk."


"What is preacher talk? We were all preachers. Preacher talk was whatever we talked about," Kyles said with a smile.

Shortly before 6 p.m. King was greeting people from the balcony, Abernathy was fetching King's coat, and Kyles was trying to get everybody out the door to attend a rally.

"I got about five feet and a shot rang out," Kyles said. "I rushed to his side, and there was a gaping hole in his face."

Kyles said he wondered for years why he there at that crucial moment.

"I was there to be a witness, and my witness has to be true," Kyles said. "Martin Luther King Jr. didn't die in a foolish way. He didn't overdose. He wasn't shot by a jealous lover. He died helping garbage workers.

"The witness will tell all who will listen, the dream is still alive."

Kyles wrapped up his presentation with one simple message for the students.

"Dream big dreams, young people," he said. "Big dreams."

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