“What are you doing to make a difference in this world? What are you doing to live out Dr. King’s dreams?” Chinyere Okogeri ’18, the student keynote speaker for Martin Luther King Jr. Week, asked audience members to think about their roles in creating an inclusive society.
Okogeri’s speech was part of the opening ceremony kicking off Colgate’s weeklong celebration of the civil rights leader.
The theme of this year’s MLK Week was “Beyond a Dream: Living the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” Facilitated by the ALANA Cultural Center, the week featured workshops and conversations aimed at giving students, faculty, and community members opportunities to engage with one another around issues of social justice, advocacy, and fellowship.
“This theme asked us to consider the compelling portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., his long legacy of advocacy, and reflect on how and if his dreams have come true,” said Okogeri. “Even more importantly, it asks us, where do we go from here?”
During her keynote speech, Okogeri reflected on a trip to Selma, Ala., where she and other Colgate students walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, following in the footsteps of King and many other civil rights advocates. She felt pride knowing that she followed the legacy of those who came before her. However, she also felt disappointment. “I reflected on the many people who were subjected to police brutality then, echoing the reality of today.”
King once said that the constitution was a promissory note, promising life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all people. When reflecting on the injustices that still exist in our society, Okogeri said, “It is obvious today, just as it was fifty-five years ago, and almost three hundred and forty-five years before that, that the United States of America has defaulted on this promissory note.”
Though Okogeri acknowledged the work that has already been done toward King’s envisioned promise land, she highlighted the work that is just beginning.
“Just a year ago, in response to our president’s inauguration, we witnessed the Women’s March attract five million people,” she said. “This march acknowledged how we all are interconnected and that, as long as one of us is not free, we all are not free, nor will we reach the promise land.”
Loretta Ross, cofounder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, echoed this sentiment during her keynote address, “Reproductive Justice as Human Rights,” later in the week. Ross is an advocate for intersectional social justice and a human rights movement that includes everyone.
“I think people misunderstand and underestimate the power of reproductive politics,” Ross said. Reproductive Justice is more than a women’s issue, she added, because it “offers an analysis that explains whose bodies matter and why — whose bodies are privileged and disadvantaged and why.”
Suzanne Spring, director of the Office of Undergraduate Studies, facilitated a workshop called “White People and the Appropriation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” which focused on the appropriation and decontextualization of King’s words and work. Reagan Mitchell, assistant professor of educational studies, facilitated “Please, Can I Get Some More King!,” a presentation about the radical vision of King and how his work is interpreted today.
The week concluded with a day of service, during which students, faculty, and staff served eight community organizations in Hamilton and the greater central New York area. Approximately 50 volunteers participated, combining to 150 total service hours, at locations including a local nursery school, the Earlville Opera House, and a second-hand clothing shop.