Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Africana, Latin, Asian and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center organized Colgate’s annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a longtime tradition on campus. The remembrance offers an opportunity for the Colgate community to examine how historical moments in the civil rights movement relate to those happening in the present day. Amid Covid-19 restrictions and the Commitment to Community Health, this year’s celebration looked a little different, as events were entirely virtual. Yet, according to Esther Rosbrook, the Director of ALANA, the virtual format inspired the most engagement and participation among students, alumni and Hamilton residents in eight years. 

“It was a pleasant surprise to see hundreds of people at some of our events this year,” Rosbrook said. “The Keynote program with Angela Davis had about fifteen hundred registrants. One of our events was facilitated by people from four different countries. If we had to do all of our programs in person, we might have [had] difficulties finding spaces to accommodate [this] many audiences for two events a day.”

According to Rosbrook, a pillar of this year’s MLK celebration was including people from different identity backgrounds in programs in order to foster diversity not only among panelists, but also among attendees. 

“If we want to create a community, we need to invite everyone to our initiatives,” Rosbrook said. “I thanked many faculty who encouraged their students to come to our MLK programs, and I was very appreciative to see how many student-athletes [are] in all of our programs as well. We were pleased to have many people feeling excited to be part of this year’s MLK events.”

In addition to the virtual format, this year’s celebration was unique given the context of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. At a point in time when education is vital to building awareness, inclusion and community not only on campus, but also at the societal level, this year’s MLK celebration was a call to service.

“What we have experienced and witnessed over time, and more clearly for the last four years related to the injustice treatment towards the Black community, and also BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] create an urgency for everyone to question, ‘where did the world go wrong,’” Rosbrook said. “This year’s celebration could not separate its approach away from the fact that there is continuous, systematic racism exhibited in our society and that we must not turn our back away from addressing the issue of racism in the past, now and in the future. That is why this year’s celebration is essential for us, as a community, to commit ourselves to serve… in creating a more just environment.” 

Community commitment to education and working to create a more equitable environment inspired junior Kylie Kroes to attend Angela Davis’s keynote address. 

“These conversations are important because it shouldn’t have to fall on BIPOC to educate white people on these issues,” Kroes said. “We should be aware of these situations by attending talks, such as Angela Davis’s, and doing our own work to find strategies that help to combat and dismantle systemic racism.” 

According to Rosbrook, BLM presented an opportunity for ALANA to contemplate the life and legacy of Dr. King in order to better understand what it means for the Cultural Center to honor and accept all community members and continue to support marginalized peoples. If junior and audience member Ellen Sojka took just one argument from Angela Davis’s keynote address, it is that the fight to dismantle systems of marginalization is just beginning. 

“Angela Davis used to be considered radical, but the movement is ongoing and we are realizing that she wasn’t radical, but just bringing these issues to light,” Sojka said.

As the celebration evolves in future years, Rosbrook says ALANA will continue to honor its core mission of celebrating Dr. King’s legacy through initiatives that encourage Colgate community members to fight for the freedom, equality and dignity of all races and people. 

As ALANA Cultural Center continues its mission and in supporting Colgate University in its DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] Third Century plan, the center will hold on to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in planning our future MLK celebrations in the future,” Rosbrook said. “Dr. King said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Therefore, we will continue to organize and facilitate powerful discussion and dialogue about differences, design inclusive programs that encourage people to engage themselves and others in critical thinking and build a meaningful and positive alliance for creating positive changes.” 

According to Rosbrook, Colgate’s MLK remembrance reminds us of the legacy of Dr. King and offers a space to consider where our society has been and discuss the progress we have yet to make. Moving forward, ALANA is celebrating Black and Africana History month with eleven programs and seven Lunar New Year programs.

Please visit calendar.colgate.edu to see the ALANA program list.