On Monday, Elizabethtown College began its annual MLK Week which honors the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. On Jan. 19, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, no classes are scheduled in order to allow all students, faculty and staff to participate in service projects. The rest of the week is filled with arts and educational events, including concerts, notable speakers and panel discussions.
On Monday, a presentation entitled “Six Voices Celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. in Sixty Minutes” was held in the High Library. The presentation consisted of six members of the college community having 10 minutes to read a quote about Martin Luther King Jr., provide the historical context for the quote and discuss King’s significance in contemporary America.
The presentation was sponsored by the Center for Student Success and Director of Student Transition Programs and Assistant Director of Academic Advising Jean-Paul Benowitz introduced the presentation as well as its presenters, highlighting the importance of the presentation in context with MLK week. “We say actions are louder than words, but words give us context. Words give us meaning,” Benowitz said.
Coordinator of Multicultural Programs and Residential Communities Brandon Jackson was first of six to present, quoting from Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Jackson briefly explained the historical context of King’s speech, noting how the Civil Rights Movement was in its prime and several important demonstrations and marches had already transpired giving a heavy weight of importance to King’s words. He also noted how the “I Have a Dream” speech was given on the 200 year anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the document which proclaimed the freedom of all slaves within the United States. Jackson finished his 10 minutes with a question for the audience. “Would Dr. King be satisfied?” Jackson said, making reference to King’s repetition of the phrase “I will not be satisfied…” within his speech.
Junior Regina Lashley was next to speak, reading from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” a commencement speech given at Oberlin College in June of 1965. The idea was that a person who lives through a revolution must do more than just live and watch it go by. They must be aware, seek understanding and truth behind the revolution and feel oneself change in some way in the process. Only then can a person truly remain awake during a revolution. This was put in context with the idea that many people, including those of today, simply sit back and let the problems or the world roll by, passing them off as unimportant or not related to their own personal lives.
Director of the Office of Diversity Diane Elliott presented third, starting her ten minutes off on a more personal note. Elliott noted how, having grown up in a period of active segregation between blacks and whites, the years of hardships were still prominent in her mind and allowed her to continue to push forward, to keep pushing for the change she still wishes to see. Elliott shared a few personal stories before sharing a quote from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” an open letter written on April 16, 1963 that defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism, arguing that people have a moral responsibility to break unjust laws. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly affects all indirectly,” quoted Elliott.
Marianne Calenda, dean of students, continued the presentation with her account of an event that occurred on January 19, 1963. On that day, a bomb was set off at Birmingham Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing four black schoolgirls. The event set off a series of racial riots within the city. Calenda then explained how she had no idea this event had taken place until many years later when she had started high school, demonstrating how her parents had confined her to a “white suburbia” in which she was isolated from the world around her and unaware of the racial divisions around her. She then quoted from the eulogy King gave for the schoolgirls killed in the bombing.
Dr. Bruce Lynch, director of student wellness, presented fifth. He began his presentation with some background behind King’s sermon “Drum Major Instinct,” a sermon he had given two months before his death. The sermon consisted of King explaining that a “drum major instinct” the basic human instinct to be on top, to feel above others, to be praised, to be a leader. This instinct can be destructive however, used to push others down or use others to come out on top. Lynch explained how King wanted his followers to not disregard this instinct but use it to be a leader of love, of compassion, to be number one in understanding, a leader of justice.
The final presenter was Brianna Williams, a sophomore, who shared King’s speech “Loving Your Enemies.” The speech spoke about how others may view a person and that baseless jealousy is a part of human interaction, but it is a person’s job to overcome that jealousy, to overcome the insults and love their enemy. “When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it,” Williams quoted, then explained that hate exchanged for hate does nothing but increase the evil in our world. The speech focused on how it is the system one should work to change, not the individual, and that overcoming the hate of an individual is more courageous than throwing that hate right back.
A small discussion and Q-and-A session was held afterwards, allowing students and staff to interact with the presenters.