This week, Ithaca College's students and faculty returned to campus to kick off the college's spring semester. And this year, as in years past, we do so with not only fresh eyes and new opportunities, but with a campus-wide celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
IC's MLK celebration committee has planned provocative and wide-ranging activities on our campus which deeply explore Dr. King's philosophies and convictions, and how his powerful legacy can guide us in our work today as we engage with issues around social justice and equity.
On the first day of our MLK Week celebration, I had the great honor of speaking during a program that featured a powerful presentation by IC’s MLK scholars about their civil rights tour, and an insightful speech by Marlon Peterson, founder of The Precedential Group, a social justice consulting firm, and a 2015 recipient of the prestigious Soros Justice Fellowship. I’d like to share my remarks with you now:
I am so pleased to be with you today, on the first day of Ithaca College’s MLK Week celebration. I want to recognize the tremendous creativity and effort that RahK and the members of the MLK committee put into this week's inspiring collection of programs and speakers. It is so important for us, as a college community, to come together and honor the life of one of the most significant people in our nation’s history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The theme selected for this week is “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” which references a sermon Dr. King gave in Washington, D.C., less than one week before his assassination almost 50 years ago. I recently took the opportunity to listen to this sermon again, and I was struck not only by the power of Dr. King’s words, but the deep truth embedded within them. It is indeed difficult to remain awake during painful and challenging times, during moments when it seems easier to close your eyes and wait until it’s over. To wait until somebody else deals with the problem or fights the battle.
But we must remember that the other half of our theme for this week contains the powerful word, “revolution.” And a revolution isn’t something that allows us to close our eyes. A revolution is a wake-up call. One that activates our consciousness and our compassion, one that energizes us as we dare to speak our truth, even in the face of great obstacles, even at great risk.
The word revolution also signals that our work will be difficult. It will require us to be brave as we own our individual experiences, and make a firm commitment to address our collective challenges by honoring our differences while valuing our humanity.
A lot is asked of us as we do this revolutionary work because the forces of oppression in our society–racism, poverty, social injustice—are entrenched, intertwined, and often hidden. Our success in overcoming these obstacles relies on our willingness to work together; certainly, with our allies and friends within our community, but also with those we do not agree with, people whose ideas and actions are difficult to relate to. Here, we must be committed to leaning into uncomfortable conversations, and be courageous enough to root our interactions in compassion and understanding. Our greatest power and potential lies in our ability to do this, to make social change by building a strong community through personal connections.
I'd like to close with a quote from Dr. King's "Remaining Awake" sermon. He said "… however much she strays away from it, the goal of America is freedom." I know that it can be difficult to keep this in mind, but that doesn't diminish the truth of this statement.
Our work, as a community that values Dr. King's contributions and seeks to continue his legacy, is to remain focused on freedom, on finding ways to create equitable and just systems that support the fundamental right that all of us have to fully participate in the human experience.