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Speakers emphasize diversity, democracy during first-ever virtual MLK rally

Westminster College community members, including ASW Student Body President Obaid Barakzai and Interim Vice President Glenn Smith watch a clip of Dr. King’s speech “The Other America” given in 1967 at Stanford University. Panelists and attendees of the school’s first virtual MLK Day event considered the relevance of this speech in today’s world. (Sage Stewart)

Westminster College kicked off its annual MLK Celebration Week, hosting its first-ever virtual rally followed by a Community Conversation Monday morning to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and legacy, especially in relation to the current socio-political climate.

“This year, not much about the day should be considered customary,” said Westminster President Beth Dobkin in her prepared remarks. “Our time is marked not only by racial unrest and growing public acknowledgment of systemic racism but a global pandemic, and most recently, an armed insurrection at our nation’s capital.”

Unlike past years, in which community members would march through the Sugar House neighborhood in person, the college’s leadership opted to host virtually due to concerns of community safety — especially in regard to the political uprisings and violence in previous weeks. 

Dobkin compared King’s work to the threat of democracy from the attack on our nation’s capital demonstrated nearly two weeks ago, when violence broke out in an effort to subvert the results of the 2020 election. 

“Let us affirm and hold strong this understanding of patriotism,” Dobkin said. “Let us live our own lives committed to democracy’s best side, searching for truth and acting with love to meet the challenges of our time.”

The virtual rally and conversation — which emphasized the betterment of democracy as well as the necessity of diverse voices and representation throughout national systems — had about 100 community members in attendance.

Noting her own experience growing up in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama, history professor Kathryn Julian spoke on how the country hasn’t “come to terms with our past, at all.” During her speech, she reflected on her glossed-over education about racism in terms of civil rights and Dr. King’s work. 

“If we do want any kind of unity ever […] we have to invest in history curriculum, we have to invest in Black instructors, people of color who are teaching history,” said Julian, professor of history at Westminster. “We have to give them voice and agency to join this conversation and enrich the historical education we’re getting.”

Every year, the college’s MLK Celebration Week engages the campus community in conversations and activities reflective of Dr. King’s legacy and work. 

Despite being virtual, Madison Covington, a third-year communication major, said she appreciated the online rally because it “enabled more people to join and keep everyone safe.” Covington also enjoyed the panel-style community conversation because “[she] heard different perspectives” and said she appreciated the candor surrounding difficult topics. 

To participate in upcoming events and activities honoring Dr. King’s legacy, visit https://westminstercollege.edu/about/diversity-equity-and-inclusion/mlk-celebration.html 

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Sage Stewart
Sage Stewart is a junior communication major at Westminster College. As a lifelong multimedia artist, Sage feels that art, no matter the medium, is one of the best things our world has to offer. When they aren’t obsessing about the arts, you can either find Sage peacefully lost in the outdoors or reading about theology and human interaction. In the future, they hope to work helping people gain access to arts organizations and communities.

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