In his speech at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Convocation, Visiting Professor of Africana Studies Kwame Zulu Shabazz said that he believes the election of president-elect Donald Trump was a “blessing in disguise.”
He said that if Hillary Clinton would have won the election, many white women would have celebrated and been complacent in the struggle for justice.
“If we’re going to change America in a way that’s substantive, we’re going to have to look ourselves in the mirror and see that we’re not who we thought we were,” Shabazz said.
Guests gathered in Harbach Theatre on Jan. 16 for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Convocation. The event is organized and run annually by Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Magali Roy-Féquière.
The Convocation opened with the Knox College Choir singing “Woke Up This Morning,” along with friends of the choir and anyone in the audience who wanted to join in.
President Teresa Amott offered opening remarks, telling the audience that she was a junior in high school when Dr. King was assassinated, and remembered his divisiveness. She asked to “cast aside the gaudy veil of sentiment he’s been shrouded in” in order to understand King’s life better, and draw parallels between our generation and his.
“The choice between the status quo and change remains our cause today,” Amott said.
Dean Laura Behling was born too late for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s along with many others in the audience, but offered wisdom on the current generation’s responsibility to work toward the world King imagined.
“All of us born too late for King’s civil rights movement, have been born at just the right time for our own,” she said.
Associate Professor of History Konrad Hamilton and Shabazz gave the two main speeches during the Convocation.
Hamilton’s speech was titled “A Path Forward During Dark Times: Reflections on the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.” and focused on using King’s lessons and activism in the face of our current political climate. He remembered eight years ago, when faculty and students were gathering just days before the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
“Today, we are here under different circumstances,” he said.
Just days before president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, he urged attendees to drop their pro- or anti-Trump identities and work together for the good of humanity and the nation. He urged those who might consider themselves “anti-Trump” to separate their dislike for Trump from the people they like who support him. For those who consider themselves “pro-Trump,” he said that it is simply not enough to say, “I’m not a racist.” They must work harder to denounce Trump’s ideas. He reminded those in attendance that our nation has faced similar situations.
“More than any other leader, Martin Luther King was able to create concrete change without the divisiveness that we experience today,” Hamilton said.
He also spoke about the widening economic inequality in America, and how if King were to have lived longer, he would probably have organized a second march on Washington, one for his Poor People’s Campaign. He closed by asking what each and every attendee is going to do to change America into the nation of our dreams and encouraged attendees to participate in grassroots activism.
“Trump will not be able to destroy our best values. It is those values that we must exercise,” Hamilton said.
Shabazz took a different approach to his speech, called “Martin Luther King, Black Death, and the Myth of the Black Superhero,” which was divided into three parts: “The myth of the black superhero,” “The myth of American democracy,” and “The necessary evil of Donald Trump.”
The first section focused on the American government involvement with the execution of black Americans. He recounted several men who were integral to the civil rights movement, including Chicago’s Fred Hampton and Peoria’s Mark Clark, who were executed by the police and the FBI.
“The United States government has been at war with its black citizens,” Shabazz said. “Black people have never known justice in America, they’ve never known democracy.”
In his second section, Shabazz focused on America’s failure to operate as a democracy, while having the rhetoric of a democracy. He said that he has seen President Barack Obama making beautiful speeches while also bombing seven countries during his presidency, with only Islamophobic rhetoric to support the action.
He also discussed the idea of law and order and how it is inherently used as a racist device against African-Americans, citing his experience growing up in a ghetto.
“The police are just another gang. … The police in Chicago act as assassins.”
In his final section, Shabazz discussed his view on Trump as a necessary evil for the American people, especially white people, to recognize their privilege and comfort and to take political action and join the fight for equal rights.
“But now he’s here and we’re not complacent,” Shabazz said. “… Our white brothers and sisters have to assess themselves.”
Roy-Féquière responded to the two differing speeches.
“We are on fire mentally, as we should be, because this is a college, not a snooze-o-rama.”
The Convocation closed with two students, senior Parker Adams and sophomore Francesca Downs, reading poems. Adams read an original poem titled “When White Girl Makes a Comment About Loud Niggas” and “Dinosaurs in the Hood” by Danez Smith, and Downs closed with TJ Jarrett’s “How to Hear Music With Your Whole Body” and “Black Girl Magic” by Mahogany L. Browne.