Rather than a single day honoring iconic civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Margo Foreman, vice president and chief officer of diversity, equity, and inclusion, dreams of seeing Clark University keep the spirit of King alive throughout the year.
“This cannot be a one-day event; this must be a lived experience,” she says.
For Foreman, it’s important to see the campus community become more engaged around the federal holiday that marks King’s birthday, observed on the third Monday in January.
“It is about what individuals bring to this engagement,” she says. “Do they bring a spirit of kindness and justice? Are they exploring others’ identities? Are they providing insight to their lived experience and where they’re from so that we start to create a more harmonious community internally and externally to the campus?
“Ultimately, it’s about how we act every day.”
The full scope of King’s work can get lost even amid a day devoted to recalling his legacy, says Esther Jones, associate provost and dean of the faculty and the E. Franklin Frazier Chair of African American Literature, Theory, and Culture.
“Let’s think about King’s legacy not just in terms of race and racial equity and justice, but let’s think about it in terms of socioeconomic justice. Let’s think about it in terms of eradication of poverty. Let’s think about it in terms of health equity and access. All those areas of life that just boil down to basic dignity and capacity to not merely survive but to thrive as citizens of this country,” says Jones.
Ousmane Power-Greene, associate professor in the Department of History and a specialist in African American social and political movements, points to King’s 1967 book “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” as an essential work for exploring King’s impact.
“Return to King, read his analysis of poverty, and see him as not just an activist but an activist intellectual who was writing while acting, trying to capture the complexities of the Black struggle for equality in America and trying to help people see the connections globally,” says Power-Green. “If people spend time doing that, they’re going to find that it’s a worthwhile experience.”
Clark is hosting an MLK remembrance event at Dana Commons from 11:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, featuring a free grab-and-go lunch. Students, faculty, and staff are invited to use the Canva app to make an “I Have a Dream” vision board, which they can share in person at the event or online using #CUHonorsMLK. Members of the community are also welcome to contribute to a community vision board.
Foreman hopes the event will bring a fresh appreciation to the famous King speech in a way that makes it contemporary for those who were not alive during the civil rights era.
On campus, Foreman envisions the kind of spirit captured in MLK Day finding its way into events during the semester.
King worked with a sense of urgency. Remembering that urgency while prioritizing civic engagement is a major piece of honoring his legacy, says Jones.
“We have an opportunity each year to put a different lens on what civil rights means in a particular moment,” says Jones. “One of the things that I think he was keenly aware of, and that he said repeatedly in his written works and in his speeches and sermons, was that democracy and the ideals that we are trying to strive to achieve require our persistent vigilance and attention. They don’t just happen passively.”