Davis and Bennet Kick Off MLK Week Events

Jackie Dowling, News Editor

On Monday, January 18, Colgate began its week-long recognition of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The opening ceremony held in the Colgate Memorial Chapel at 12:00 p.m. kicked off a week of events, lectures, discussions and service projects that sought to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and continue making strides toward racial equality through conversation and action.

The events of the week were co-sponsored by the Africana, Latin American, Asian American and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center, the Dean of the College, the Africana and Latin American Studies Program, the Women’s Studies Department, International Student Services, Romance Languages, and the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE).

Associate Dean of Campus Life and Director of the ALANA Cultural Center Thomas A. Cruz-Soto, Jr. began the ceremony by thanking the many individuals and organizations that made this week possible through their tireless efforts and organization. Cruz-Soto has served as chair for the MLK week celebration for nine consecutive years at Colgate.

“[We are] building great community in 2016 and gaining a better understanding and appreciation for who we are and what we contribute to Colgate and to the greater society,” Cruz-Soto said.

Outreach and Programming Coordinator at ALANA Christelle Boursiquot ’15 introduced Colgate alumnus Thomas Bennet ’72. Bennet has two sons that graduated from Colgate in 2006 and 2009. He is the recipient of Outstanding Social Studies Educator Award and Distinguished Educator Award and serves on the Cabinet of Freedom, the Governing Board of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.

Bennet began his speech by speaking about the incredible impact Colgate’s community and its courses had on his awareness of social justice while he was an undergraduate student. Next, Bennet spoke to the legacy of civil rights activism that has taken place in Central New York throughout history.

“There is a proud heritage of involvement in movements for reform that began in the 19th century,” Bennet said.

Bennet mentioned the largest protest in the nation against the fugitive slave law that took place in Cazenovia in 1850 as an event that had both local and national importance. Over 2,000 people took part in this protest and sparked a wave of similar protests and anti-slave movements that permeated through the surrounding New York communities, namely the small town of Peterboro and the populous city of Syracuse. Bennet concluded his speech by underlining the importance of knowledge of the past in order to understand the present more clearly. He stressed the idea that the past can offer us strength, perspective and optimism in order to continue to work for justice and change in the present and future in America.

Last to speak at the opening ceremony was senior Alexandria (Aidan) Davis. Davis is a senior advisor for the Black Student Union, co-leader of the Antiracism Coalition and community leader for the Social Justice House. She was also chosen as a New York Six Think Tank Fellow for Colgate. In her speech titled, “Today, I see the Dragon,” Davis conveyed her perspective on race and the denial of reality through the lens of Audre Lorde’s many-headed dragon metaphor.  

“Although we deal with many different ailings, they are the limbs of the same many-headed beast,” Davis said.

Davis attributed each component of our society to certain appendages of the dragon. She spoke about the obligation we have as a community to confront this dragon and eliminate the monster that stems from greed, power and an inequitable society. Davis also mentioned the vital role that education will play in correcting the social ailment that still infects our society.

“Dragons are fictional creatures wrapped up in a heterosexual and male dominated story, I know. But pray tell me what else could encompass the seemingly unreal, wretched, nonsensical, unbelievable, diabolically brilliant nature of the system we live in that long-term works for no one,” Davis said.

Davis went on to discuss the importance and right that every person possesses, regardless of race, to speak up. She warned that both individual silence and collective silence are ways in which we will fuel this dragon, not destroy it. Davis spoke about the way in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would view this dragon and push back on those who tried to silence his words and ideas.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” Davis said, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sophomore Tyler Maxie spoke about the relevance that Davis’ speech had to his own life and the lives of everyone else on campus.  

“I was really connected [to] and blown away by Aidan Davis’ speech. The speech was something that I wished every Colgate student had heard in that chapel,” Maxie said.

In looking at the morning’s event overall, sophomore Ally Burstein commended both speakers on their cohesiveness and how they complemented each other.

“I appreciated the contrast between Bennet’s historical account of social movements within upstate New York and Davis’ modern perspective on how she personally is experiencing the current campus climate issues,” Burstein said.