MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Mead Chapel was filled to capacity with hundreds of Middlebury students and scores of community members to hear civil rights activist Shaun King speak about “Why We Must Say Black Lives Matter” on November 1.

King, the senior justice writer for the (N.Y.) Daily News who has more than 950,000 followers on Facebook and 389,000 on Twitter, alluded to “the 102 fully unarmed and nonviolent African Americans shot and killed by police in the United States in 2015” and declared “there is something deeply troubling and painful about the time we are living in right now.”

The 37-year-old former teacher and pastor displayed a timeline of human history and said “the notion that the lives of human beings were steadily improving” is false. He pointed to the transatlantic slave trade, the Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, and “needless wars and man-made famines,” and said human history has always been a series of peaks and dips, and that civilization is at a low point right now.

Shaun King speaks to a full house at Mead Chapel on November 1.

He buttressed his argument with statistics showing that 1.5 million people are currently incarcerated in American prisons. (“We have more people in prison than any country in the world. We have more people in prison than any country in the history of the world,” King said.) He showed graphic video clips of African Americans being brutalized by police at a pool party, inside a public school, and at Donald Trump rallies. And he discussed how white people can feel “safe and comfortable in their white privilege” while African Americans are getting beaten up or killed.

King showed a

of a white man speaking on camera after he had attacked a black man at a Trump rally. “The next time we see him,” said the attacker in the video, “we might have to kill him.”

The guest speaker compared the rancor in America today to the enmity of the 1860s and the 1960s. “There was the Civil War, there was the Civil Rights movement, and then there is now. It is really, really difficult to understand a moment in history when you are in it because you are just living it. You are hungry. You have homework. You have relationships… I was a college student too. I know these things. You don’t wake up and say, ‘Where in the scheme of history are we today?’

“But many of you have understood and felt in your heart, in your mind, and in your soul that there is something deeply troubling and painful about the time we are in right now… We are in a dip. We are in a challenging time in humanity. And there is a chicken-and-egg thing, a cause-and-effect piece about Donald Trump. He is causing some of this, but he is also a symptom of it.”

King continued, “Donald Trump received over 14 million votes in Republican primaries, which is the most votes any Republican has ever received in the primaries in the history of this country. So to blame Donald Trump solely and singly on Donald Trump would be to give the other 14 million people who voted for him a pass.”

was in one of these, we have always found our way out. Whatever ugly period of humanity you want to talk about, human beings have never remained there permanently.”

Dips in humanity “can be long term or short term, depending on how hard we fight to get our way out. And what I know, and this is good, is that we have barely scratched the surface to the solutions of the problems our country has. We have hardly scratched the surface of how to solve police brutality. We have hardly scratched the surface of how to solve immigration reform…poverty…education.”

King’s optimism is rooted in the generations of people under 30 in America today, and he supported his contention with data from a recent HBO study that showed, in King’s words, “Today’s young people en masse see injustice differently than their elders.”

“So as we find our way out of this, it’s not going to be me. It’s going to be you that lead us out. It’s going to be your efforts, your commitment that leads us out of here. I am here to be the bearer of bad news that we are in a dip, but I am deeply inspired that it will be us in the room who will find our way out of it.”

His closing remarks were met with a standing ovation from the gathering of nearly 1,000 people wedged into Mead Chapel, and during the Q and A that followed King reaffirmed his final point:

“I am asking you to make a lifelong commitment to fight injustice. It’s not a wave. It’s not a fad. I want us to find our way out of this dip with your commitment that is based on principles [and] values. For the rest of our lives we will be fighting, and now is the time to make that commitment.”

Shaun King was invited to appear at Middlebury by the College’s Meet the Press series and Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity.

Reporting by Robert Keren; Photos by Yeager Anderson