55 years. Only 55 years ago, Martin Luther King took a leap of courage and invited people from across the country to join him in his march through the South to Selma, Alabama in an attempt to give a voice to the minorities who were silenced due to discrimination. In the 55 years since those famous Alabama marches, the United States has continued to make strides in gaining rights for many minority groups, from African Americans to members of the LGBTQIA community and more.
In many ways, however, King’s march for equality is still left unfinished. Racial slurs and police brutality continue to threaten democracy, while organized protests and social movements keep working to fight for the equal rights of all.
The Campuswide Student Celebration held on Jan. 16th not only commemorated the legacy of King, but also played tribute to the ongoing fight for equality. The celebration’s theme of Activism and the Fierce Urgency of Now was carried out through each event of the night.
Junior executive officer of the African American Student Association Samuel Brown, fifth-year MGT, began the night by commemorating the vital role that King played for his organization. Brown challenged the audience “to enjoy [the event] with intention,” emphasizing how Tech’s motto of creating the next serves a call to create an inclusive and diverse environment.
“We have been trusted to never be complacent and always do more,” said Brown.
Brown’s speech was followed with a dance performance given by the African American fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha. Throughout the performance, members recited King’s words and remembered his achievements. They also explained how their own missions intertwined with the message of King.
“Alpha Phi Alpha continued to supply a voice to African Americans,” said one of the brothers, ending their performance with a reminder of King’s legacy. “MLK day is not a day off, but a day of service.”
Another dance performance was given by fourth-year CM Delauryn Brown. When asked about the importance of MLK Day, Brown tied this celebration to the celebration of Black History as a whole.
“February is Black History Month, so for me MLK day is like the preview to black history month,” said Brown. “It starts off the celebration of the work and effort that a lot of marginalized groups, specifically black people, put into creating their place in America.”
In agreement with the other speakers of the night, Brown also spoke of the importance of continuing King’s work as she weighed in on diversity and inclusion on Tech’s campus.
“I think [Tech] can improve its diversity, not just by acknowledging all the marginalized groups because it does a pretty good job of that, but by bridging the gap between marginalized groups,” said Brown.
Second-year ISyE Jonathan Caldwell not only focused on King’s impact for the African American community, but also commemorated King’s fight as one for the equal rights of all minorities.
“MLK spoke margins to Latinos and other minorities,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell also spoke of his belief in the next generation’s ability to inspire further change, as he spoke of the importance of passion and movements.
“We can transform this decade with activism as we truly believe that peace is power.”
CM alumna Jhilika Kumar also addressed King’s impact as global in reach, emphasizing the array of issues found today, including those of decisive politics, environmental concerns and more.
“Planet Earth is alive, but it’s not well,” said Kumar. “We, as a generation, are an ambitious army of truth seekers … We must strike down apathy.”
The last speech of the night was delivered by Henderson Johnson II, a fourth-year AE Ph.D. candidate. Johnson weighed in on feelings of not belonging, especially at a school like Tech. He recalled the importance of college students asking themselves throughout their education questions like “who am I” and “what do I stand for” in order to give themselves a sense of purpose. He noted how these conversations are especillay important for groups such as minorities, women and non-binary students as they are often still judged as only “fulfilling a diversity quota.
“[Activism] is simply existing … in spaces that were not meant for you,” said Johnson.
The celebration concluded with a candle lighting ceremony, which featured representatives from many different groups on campus. The students not only lit a candle in King’s memory, but also spoke of their desire to continue his legacy.