By Kara Hackett
Steve Jobs, the late Apple CEO and co-founder, inspired Americans when he said, "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do." That's part of the ideology behind Taylor graduate Wesley Rediger's presentation called "Equaliberty" that will be featured in the Recital Hall Monday afternoon as part of Taylor's Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebrations. "Equaliberty" features live readings and 70 projected photos of the great speeches made by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and President Abraham Lincoln, reviving America's world changers to reminds audiences they have the power to change the world, too. Rediger says 2013 is an important year to honor King and Lincoln because it is the 50th anniversary of King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address"- two civil rights speeches that became mile markers in American history. "It's a once in a lifetime commemorative opportunity to honor the men who gave great speeches and remember the content of those speeches and what they meant to the nation when they were given," Rediger said. When King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963, Rediger was the 16-year-old son of Taylor's then-President Milo Rediger, the namesake of Rediger Auditorium. He spent his summer at Taylor doing maintenance work for the university and painting bleachers in heat. Although Rediger always had an interest in history, he felt separated from racial issues plaguing the country in Upland's small, isolated community. It wasn't until he was an adult that he realized his interests in history and faith merged in the speeches of America's great leaders. "I got bitten by the speeches that had references to God in them," Rediger said. "I wanted to know why they mentioned God." Rediger discovered that although people have experienced and expressed God in different ways throughout history, all of the world's major religions have one common teaching: Do to others as you would have others do to you. It's the Golden Rule, and the epitome of what Rediger calls "equaliberty" that unites humanity and defines the American ideal. "Equaliberty is the essence of being human in every human being," Rediger said. He coined the phrase by combining equality and liberty, and he says the sum of equaliberty is greater than it's parts. Liberty without equality creates class distinctions, slavery and segregation, whereas equality without liberty creates socialism and communism. Upon this realization, Rediger began memorizing historical documents and speeches. Although he didn't enjoy memorizing information as a student, he began memorizing Bible verses, and his skills eventually transferred to memorizing speeches. "If you find a story that is compelling, it gets stuck in your mind," Rediger said. "One sentence leads to the next, and one idea leads to the next." Rediger started presenting "Equaliberty" about 10 years ago for the KIWANIS club. At first, it was just his recantation of speeches. After several years, he decided to add pictures, projecting them on a screen behind him as he spoke. "The further I read, the more I revised," Rediger said. "The presentation is always growing and evolving after each performance." New this year is Rediger's accompaniment from Rev. Larry Emmons. A few months ago, Rediger heard Emmons recite King's "I Have a Dream" speech and was blown away. "If you close your eyes, it feels like Washington D.C. in 1963," Rediger said. He asked Emmons to join him. Now the German-American Rediger and the African-American Emmons work together to breathe life back into history's greatest orators. "Equaliberty" is presented in eight-minute segments that take audiences on a journey through the American Revolution, the Civil War, the boycotts and sit-ins of the civil rights movement, King's "I have a Dream Speech and Orlando Patterson's "The Last Race Problem" article published in the New York Times in 2006. Most of the segments relate to revolution and law - two factors Rediger says are necessary to achieve public equaliberty. But Rediger says personal equaliberty is easier to achieve. It comes through individuals choosing to listen and appreciate other people. Ultimately, the same values that justify dying for equaliberty, call Americans to personally reach out and engage with others regardless of their skin color, Rediger says. At the end of his presentation, Rediger reminds audiences they can help solve America's last race problem by listening to other people and making a conscious effort to understand them. LaRea Slater, a committee member for Our Town Upland who attended high school with Rediger, saw "Equaliberty" performed for the first time about one year ago at the Marion Public Library. Since then, she's accepted Rediger's challenge to influence change on a personal level. "I had the desire to want to measure up to that greatness (of Lincoln and King), and Wes offers a way to do that," Slater said. "The suggestion is simple and possible. It's stunning to realize that I can resolve the last race problem today, here where I live." Slater hopes "Equaliberty" will revitalize the local community and remind everyone that they have the power to influence change. "It's reaffirming that individuals can do a lot toward a goal or idea," Slater said. "For those of us who are older, it takes you back to your college days when you saw a problem and you thought you could solve it. That's one of the problems with adults. They don't think that way anymore. This could provide that hope for the people in Grant County."
'Equaliberty' What: Live readings of the great speeches made by Martin Luther King and President Abraham Lincoln accompanied by 70 dramatic photographs. When: Monday, Jan. 21 at 3 p.m. Where: Recital Hall in the Taylor Music Building
Admission is free and open to the public. "Equaliberty" will also be presented at Marion Civic Theatre on Friday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. for a $5 donation at the door. For more information visit www.equaliberty.com.