MLK Week Kicks Off with Presentations, Discussions, and Tours

By Suzannah Van Gelder ’20, Hannah Fitzpatrick ’21, January 20, 2020
MLK Week events showcase the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Ithaca College’s annual week-long celebration of the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. kicked off on Monday, Jan. 20, with a presentation by first-year students in the college’s Martin Luther King Scholars Program and a discussion led by Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs La Jerne Terry Cornish, based on the week’s theme, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.”

The presentation by the MLK Scholars focused on their thoughts and reflections of the group’s October 2019 tour of key sites in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. During their tour, the students visited sites such as King’s birth home in Atlanta and the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala.

Along with sharing their experiences during the trip, the Scholars also focused on connections between historical and modern forms of oppression that people of color have faced in the U.S., such as slavery, mass incarceration, lynching, and mass detainment and deportation of immigrants.

“As a person of color, I'm affected by these issues, but additionally, because I am a person who has the privilege of getting a college education. Because I have that access and that platform, it’s especially important for me to use that voice that I do have to speak up." 

MLK Scholar Maya McCullough ’23

Maya McCullough ’23 said the experience has shown her the importance of speaking out against injustices and standing up for what’s right.

“As a person of color, I'm affected by these issues, but additionally, because I am a person who has the privilege of getting a college education,” she said. “Because I have that access and that platform, it’s especially important for me to use that voice that I do have to speak up and to fight for the same ideals that Dr. King would.”

Scholar Kalena Yearwood ’23, said it is important to celebrate King’s life and work because it inspires people to advocate for change, and strengthens the college community.

“Sometimes we look past these important times,” Yearwood said. “Having a reminder that we all need to come together, especially at an important time like this, is a motivator for us.”

After the presentation, Cornish led a discussion focused on this year’s MLK Week theme, “A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal.” Based on a quote from King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City, this theme emphasizes the importance of standing up for others when they are faced with injustice. Cornish also invited audience members to write down how they would fight against injustice and have volunteers share their thoughts.

“How often do we try, truly try, to see things from the perspective from those different from us, those who we label the ‘enemy’? It is conceivable that if we but view things from this perspective, we might see our own faults, and we might choose a different course.”

La Jerne Terry Cornish, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

In her lecture, Cornish said the lessons that can be taken away from King and his words are still relevant today, and that applying those lessons to everyday life could help improve how people see the world and how they act towards others different from them.

“How often do we try, truly try, to see things from the perspective from those different from us, those who we label the ‘enemy’?” she said. “It is conceivable that if we but view things from this perspective, we might see our own faults, and we might choose a different course.”

Another part of the week-long celebration is the college’s Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Social Change (IDEAS) presentation of The People’s Movement Self-Guided Media Exhibit. Located in Clark Lounge, it highlights King, the Civil Rights Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign.

Free and open to the public, the tour features several stations that have either video or text to engage with. At each station, the media pertains to one of three themes: nonviolent strategies, solidarity, or 21st-century change. One station features portions of an interview with civil rights activist Diane Nash, in which she discusses her involvement in the movement as a student. The station also features a text called “The King Philosophy,” which outlines Kings six steps of nonviolent social change.

Participants also receive a thought guide which presents questions about the materials in the exhibit to consider, and a free thought space where they can jot down their own reflections as they consider the ideas being presented.

Kaitlyn Katz ’21 was particularly inspired by a text by Jack H. Bloom, a rabbi from Fairfield, Conn., who traveled to Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 to participate in the civil rights movement. Katz felt that she connected to Bloom’s narrative about living in a community sheltered from and indifferent to much of the racial injustices in our country.

While most of the stations focused on the national history behind the Civil Rights Movement, there was also a portion of the exhibit connecting it to the Ithaca community. In a video posted to the Youtube channel Invisible People, videographer and activist Mark Horvath tours “The Jungle,” a homeless encampment of individuals who live in tents and makeshift cottages in the woods of Ithaca. The video aims to humanize and bring awareness to the plight of individuals in the Ithaca community.

“Had [the Civil Rights Movement] not happened, where would I be right now?"

Alex Paredes-Ruiz ’21

Alex Paredes-Ruiz ’21 volunteered at the exhibit and handed out the thought guides. He believed it was important to be involved in the event.

“I’m a queer Latino,” said Paredes-Ruiz. “Had [the Civil Rights Movement] not happened, where would I be right now? Volunteering helps me be a part of that movement.”

The People’s Movement Self-Guided Media Exhibit will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Friday, Jan. 24.