As students return to campus for the spring semester, Colgate celebrates its annual observance of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) day with a week-long series of events in honor of the late activist, who would have turned 83 years old on January 15. This past Monday, students and faculty took time out of their first day of classes to attend lectures and workshops that focused on the message of King and how it resonates today in the twenty-first century.
During the MLK Day Opening Ceremony, hundreds of students occupied the Colgate Memorial Chapel to listen to speakers, as well as observe various student-led performances in honor of King. A number of students read poems, including a poetically-minded reenactment of King’s esteemed “I Have a Dream” speech. The Colgate Thirteen performed civil rights activist Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” Dorothy Willsey, president of the Cabinet of Freedom, National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, also gave a special presentation to commemorate King.
To open the ceremony, Interim Provost and Dean of the Faculty Bruce Selleck ’71 discussed his memories of the Civil Rights Movement back when he was a teenager.
“I remember watching King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on black-and-white TV,” Dean Selleck said on Monday. “Back in the ‘60s, there was a sense of profound change.” But despite the change that has occurred since MLK led the Civil Rights Movement nearly 50 years ago, he admits that there is still a long way to go.
“We are a better world in 2012 than we were in 1963,” Dean Selleck said.
“But we still have war, poverty and other injustices that continue to plague society.”
This was a notion that many others shared as well. In a workshop taking place Monday afternoon entitled, “A Time of Reconsideration: MLK, Obama and America’s future,” Professor of History and African-American studies Dr. Charles Banner-Haley discussed how far America has come since the abolition of slavery at the end of the Civil War. But he also noted how much work still needs to be done before true equality can become a reality.
“My fear was that once Obama was elected, just like when the Civil War ended, just like when the Civil Rights Acts were passed, that people would throw up their hands and say that race divisions were over,” Professor Banner-Haley said. “Martin Luther King was not satisfied with just getting voting rights, but wanted equality and protection of all human rights.”
When asked how America can promote these ideals, Banner-Haley said, “King put his finger on it. We need to fix economic disparity.”
Although African Americans represent approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population, Banner-Haley noted that they constitute nearly 26 percent of citizens living off food stamps. He also described the importance of 2012 because of the elections that will take place in the fall.
“These elections will lay the foundation for what the future of America is going to be,” Banner-Haley said.
Here at Colgate, students and faculty alike believe that celebrating the life of MLK allows the community to reflect on its goals and to provide direction for change. For Assistant Dean of Multicultural Affairs Thomas Cruz-Soto, this includes reflecting on the way that Colgate educates its students.
“I believe that Colgate needs to provide more opportunities for honest dialogue amongst its students, faculty and staff on issues regarding race and gender. I further feel that this institution needs to reflect on the curriculum and determine if we are ready to make a change in how we educate our students in this ever-changing globalized world,” Dean Cruz-Soto said. “The goal with this week is to educate, to inspire and to motivate the Colgate community to continue to push for access and equity for all that attend this great institution.”
Although most seem to agree that there is still much work to be done, many also agree that MLK Week is a step in the right direction.
“The events that took place mean a lot to me, as they are a prime example of Colgate’s efforts to maintain and strengthen its community through the celebration of Dr. King’s life accomplishments,” sophomore James Speight said. “I’m glad to know that his message continues to be carried on, not only through our faculty, but students as well.”
MLK Week will continue to be celebrated with brown bag lunches and keynote addresses throughout the week, concluding with an afternoon of service with the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE) on Friday afternoon
Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected]