Speakers highlight “the fierce urgency of now” and urge students to take action
Last week, the College of Wooster celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and remembered the lasting impact he had in the Civil Rights movement as well as in individuals, especially those struggling to find their voice. Leading up to the actual holiday and the week of commemoration, the College of Wooster collaborated with local schools to display artwork relating to the theme of this year’s justice dialogues, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”
The commemoration started with a moving performance of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” delivered by Camron Love ’25. From then, Lillian Evans, Associate Dean of Students and Director of Multicultural Student Affairs, addressed the “fierce urgency of now,” recognizing not only Dr. King but the multitude of collaborators from Malcom X to Rosa Parks and many, many more who helped to bring America to a better understanding of justice in civil rights. Professor Michael Miyawaki of the sociology department also spoke, giving an overview of his Microaggressions and Microaffirmations Project, dubbed the M&M Project.
On Tuesday, Jan. 17, the first of the justice dialogues began, with the keynote address by Rev. Gwendolyn Webb. As a 14 year old, Pastor Webb took part in the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, AL, and grew up passionate to join Dr. King as she felt the real effects of his work in her everyday life. She urges the youth of today “to work with the people who [are] trying to work to get things done…Show people that you are who you say that you are. You are the leaders of today.” In an emotionally charged symbol of collaboration, she led the crowd in Gault Recital Hall in a chorus of the song “We Shall Overcome,” the traditional gospel tune.
Wednesday’s justice dialogue consisted of an introduction to Professor Miyawaki’s M&M project, as well as a panel consisting of professor of communication studies Denise Bostdorff, Equity Inclusion and Diversity (EID) Coordinator Kayla Campbell and Nadia Delacruz ’25. Microaggressions consist of slights or insults which, intentional or not, communicate negative messages to recipients based on group membership. On the other hand, microaffirmations are small gestures of inclusion and caring which communicate a welcome environment to recipients. The M&M project is meant to uplift marginalized groups to open up about microaggressions they’ve received as well as share positive microaffirmations to reinforce ways in which they can overcome and heal the insults and for the community as a whole to learn to interact in a welcoming manner with those who have been (and may continue to be) marginalized. With the help of 125 students, Professor Miyawaki organized a two week photoshoot in Lowry Student Center, inviting students to share both microaggressions and microaffirmations. Professor Miyawaki strives to foster conversation, saying “we hope that the M&M project can provide an avenue for the members of the Wooster community to engage in meaningful discourse about the significance of our everyday actions.” To view the photos as well as get more details of the project, you can visit wooster.edu/mmproject.
Beginning with a soul-stirring performance of Beyonce’s “Spirit” by Linat Westreich ’23, Thursday, Jan. 19 marked the third and final justice dialogue, with special guest and Wooster alumnus Kurt Russell ’94. Recently named National Teacher of the Year, he teaches history at Oberlin High School, along with a self-designed course titled “Race, Gender and Oppression.” Answering questions from professor Ryan Ozar with the education department as well as students Laura Jentes ’23 and Yakeria Lamar ’23, Russell shared insights from dealing with the challenges of representation, specifically in the teaching profession, to the challenges of parents disputing curriculum. Speaking specifically on the issue of inclusion and representation of the students themselves, he said “social justice in education is equity for every student that walks in your classroom,” and feels that it is his and every teacher’s job “to make sure that all […] students [see] themselves in the curriculum.” Russell also recognized the importance of remembering Dr. King, and shared that “the one thing that resonated with me is that Dr. King was rebellious, and he was a revolutionary; rebellious because he went against the status quo, and revolutionary because he did it with love.” As we remember Dr. King not only for his specific holiday, but for every day we do something to challenge the status quo and speak up for marginalized groups, let us remember to do it with love as he did.
Closing out the commemoration of Dr. King was a keynote address by Dr. Patrice Bucknell Jackson, with an introduction by Shaunta Palmer ’25 and Cheryl Nuñez, Vice President of EID. Dr. Jackson has served in executive leadership with multiple colleges and universities, as well as hosts a podcast titled “Disrupting Burnout.” Starting with a tribute to Dr. King, she says “I’m here to honor Dr. King by igniting a fire in your heart, because I believe the best way we can honor Dr. King is by doing the thing that we were created to do.” She goes on to speak about purpose and meaning in each person’s life, saying “Goodness is attracted when you work in purpose; purpose is going to cost you something, but the cost is worth it.” Dr. Jackson ends her address by quoting Dr. King, urging us to address the fact that “tomorrow is today” and we must face the “fierce urgency of now.”
The 2023 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration was full of uplifting and empowering marginalized voices, while honoring the memory and work put in not only by Dr. King, but by those who have been silenced and still fought oppression.