Returning to Colgate from winter break, students were greeted with signs around campus that read “Whites Only” or “Coloreds Only.” These signs, not meant as a form of segregation on campus, were intended to inform students of the advances Martin Luther King Jr. made in American society. His accomplishments were further celebrated on Monday during Colgate’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
The day’s events began at noon in Memorial Chapel with “Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Through the Arts.” At this event a number of students and faculty preformed a variety of pieces to commemorate Dr. King, including sophomore Paige Carlos’s dance to one of King’s speeches and junior Courtney Richardson’s reading of a letter she had written to King in one of her classes.
There were five other performers in addition to those already mentioned: seniors Ian Maron-Kolitch, Kia King, Nzingha Job, Brian Haghighi and ALANA Cultural Leader Linda Ahmed. After the performances were finished, the microphone was open to anyone who wished to express his or her feelings about King and his work. Although the event deviated from the discussion and lecture based activities that occurred the rest of the day, the event planners felt as though the forum would help people think about the issues that would be discussed throughout the day.
“We wanted a mellow, but powerful introduction to the day, something where people would think,” said Maron-Kolitch, who helped plan the event and acted as emcee, along with Kia King.
Following the performances in the Chapel were two workshops in the African, Latin, Asian and Native American Cultural Center (ALANA). The first discussion was titled “New Directions in Black Leadership Post-King” and was led by Associate Professor of History and Africana & Latin American Studies and Arnold A. Sio Chair in Diversity & Community Charles Banner-Haley. This discussion focused on how Dr. King would view the black leaders of this era.
The second discussion, “‘What’s love got to do with it?’ Reflections of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Strength to Love'” was led by attorney Jessica J. Jackson. She spoke on society’s need to pay more attention to love, the kind of “love that makes us forgive our foes,” according to Jackson. In Jackson’s view, racism could be solved by this kind of love.
The second track of workshops took place at 4:00 p.m., also at ALANA. Instructor of Sociology Louis Prisock led the discussion titled “Can Dr. King’s Dream Be Achieved?” that asked whether American politics can allow everyone equal opportunities in America.
The second discussion, “Who are you? The Power of Social Identities,” was led by Residential Education Coordinator Piko Ewoodzie and Assistant COVE Director Betsy Busche. After listening to several audio clips, the group received worksheets about their social identities.
Ewoodzie distributed worksheets that asked participants to choose several social identity categories that they identified with the most and several that they least identified with. Small group discussions followed the exercise.
“It is strange to think that what you identify with is not what other people identify with,” freshman Seghan MacDonald said.
Though neither the audio clips nor the worksheet were about King, at the end of the discussion the importance of King’s mission was related to the activities of the workshop.
“At the end, [Ewoodzie] said that we all sit here and wait for another Martin Luther King, but we have to stop waiting because we are the Martin Luther King. We are the ones that have to make a difference. And I really liked that because its true and I’d never thought about that. We don’t think that we have to deal with the social issues, but really we need to be the ones to do something,” MacDonald said.
The final event was held in the Chapel and included many different presentations about King and his work. The Hamilton Central School Vocal Group began the event by singing “Seasons of Love” from “Rent.” Following their performance, Director of the Office of Undergraduate Studies Jaime Nolan made some opening remarks. Following her remarks, the 2007 “Skin Deep” participants took the stage to perform a piece. The twenty-one students took part in a retreat earlier this year and each took turns telling of his or her experiences with discrimination.
“The ‘Skin Deep’ was really well done, I really enjoyed it. I thought it was really courageous of them to be so open and share their stories with them. It was really dramatic but not overdone, it was just really honest,” first-year Ashley Lazevnick said.
Following the performance the winners of the “Letters to Dr. Martin Luther King” essay contest from Hamilton Central School took the stage to read their essays.
Finally, CBS Sunday Morning commentator Nancy Giles gave her keynote address, entitled “My Wacky Adventures in Race and Racism.” The talk included Giles’s stories from her acting career as well as her life as a college student.
“She did a great job. I haven’t seen any of her work but I think that her speech was perfect for the target audience because it really grabbed our attention,” Lazevnick said. “It was really sophisticated in how she combined comedy with real life situations. She infused serious issues with a lightness that was refreshing and was also poignant in her delivery.”
Although the evening was filled with laughter, the serious message involved did not elude those in attendance.
“What I got out of the evening was that Martin Luther King’s dream is still a dream,” sophomore Granger Beaton said.