Students, faculty, staff and other community members gathered Friday at Westminster College’s annual Unity Luncheon to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Participants shared a meal, spoke about their personal journeys and watched their peers receive Unsung Hero awards in recognition of their service to the college community.
The event was a collaboration between many offices and departments on campus including the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Office of Global Peace and Spirituality.
This year’s recipients of the Unsung Hero award were Lesa Ellis, professor of neuroscience; Tamara Stevenson, associate professor of communication; Collin Bunker, deputy chief information officer; Marley Dominguez, justice studies major; Engels Tejeda, alumni and attorney for Holland & Hart; and the Office of Marketing and Communications.
Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dr. Marco Barker said the Unity Luncheon started three years ago as a response to the campus’ need to start more conversations of unity.
Barker said the luncheon was also an important way for the administration to connect with students and engage them in conversations about social change and diversity.
“We are always thinking about different approaches and ways to connect with students so they see there is space for them to be apart of the conversation with faculty and staff,” Barker said.
He said the event has grown from no students attendees to about 50 percent of attendees over the past couple of years.
Ebony Tyler, Westminster student and lead communication and programming coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said the luncheon served as an opportunity not only to honor MLK’s legacy but also to get to the root of “uncomfortable conversations.”
“I think it’s great that we’re coming together and we’re having these conversations because it puts us in the right direction to be doing the work that needs to be done to make change,” Tyler said.
Dean of Students Karnell McConnell-Black, one of the speakers at the event, shared part of his life story and how it related to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon on the use of vulnerability and fear to drive social change.
“We must not let fear paralyze us,” McConnell-Black said. “I believe Dr. King’s sermon actually provides us a strong foundation [to] help us to navigate our fears, releasing us from our own shackles.”
During his speech, McConnell-Black reflected on his journey to finding and embracing his “true authentic self.” This included acknowledging his fears as a young man of being disowned by his mother for his sexuality.
McConnell-Black said the antidotes to fear are acknowledgment, courage, love and faith.
“I have decided to stick with love,” said McConnell-Black quoting MLK. “Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
International student Yongtai Li said attending the Unity Luncheon helped him learn and better understand what equity and diversity looks like at Westminster.
“I also feel this Unity Luncheon is very educational and I am now more proud of Westminster College,” Li said.