MLK Keynote Speech Inspires Activism in the Colgate Community

On Monday, January 23, students, faculty and staff gathered in the Colgate Memorial Chapel at noon for the start of Martin Luther King, Jr. Week. As audience members filtered in, senior Jazmyn McKoy sang an original arrangement by Dianne McDowell connecting “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “Keep the Dream Alive.”

Associate Dean of Campus Life Dean Cruz-Soto gave introductions and urged the Colgate community to communicate with one another, specifically without computers and phones. Cruz-Soto explained how vital diversity and communication are to a small community like Colgate.

Thomas Bennett ’72, a member of the governing board of the National Abolition Hall of Fame (NAHOF) and Museum in Peterboro, New York, spoke next. He spoke to the community about the history of abolition work in the area just outside of Colgate and even the abolitionist work that happened at Colgate. Bennett showed a picture of George Gavin Ritchie, one of the inductees to the NAHOF. Ritchie was a student at Madison University, which is now Colgate University, who was expelled for publishing an article in The Maroon News critiquing church members in New York for not supporting voting rights for black men in 1846.

“Activism is not new to Colgate’s campus,” Bennett said.

Senior Ashleandra Opoku gave the student keynote speech. Opoku, a peace and conflict studies concentrator, is a general council member for the Black Student Union and is the Multicultural and LGBTQ Intern for the Center for Women’s Studies. But when ALANA Outreach and Program Coordinator Christelle Boursiquot introduced Opoku, she pointed out the best thing about Ashleadra is not all of her involvement at Colgate, it is her presence.

Opoku began by describing her lineage – her mother and her grandmother – thus situating herself and her personal history in the women who came before her.

“I remember everything,” Opoku said. She went on to share memories of joy and hope, like watching Barack Obama become elected president, but also memories of pain, like hearing stories of police brutality against unarmed black men. Opoku spoke about sitting in a room in Bunche House with her friends watching Donald Trump become elected president. She was in disbelief and felt heartbroken, but over the winter break she reflected and realized that feeling heartbroken could be a good thing. Opoku challenged those in the audience to feel deeply and use the disruption that heartbreak brings to work towards change. Audience members were touched by her speech.

“At a time when many of us are at a loss for words about the state of the country, Ashleandra said what so many people needed to hear. It reminded me that no matter how hopeless or broken the world may feel, I am lucky to have talented, resilient, passionate friends who will never stop fighting for what they believe in,” senior Rachel Drucker said.

McKoy elaborated on her performance at the event. “I sang each word of these songs from my heart,” McKoy said. “As I proclaimed the pertinent message that ‘We’ve got to keep Martin’s dream alive’ and ‘Let us march on until victory is won,’ I was speaking to myself just as much as I was to everyone in the audience. I feel blessed to have been able to use my musical gift to empower our Colgate community during this trying time in America.”

The MLK week event was a call to action, not only to celebrate the history of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists, but to be a part of such activism.

The event was co-sponsored by ALANA, Dean of the College, Africana and Latin American Studies Program, the Center for Women’s Studies, International Student Services, Romance Languages, and the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education.