For the 18th annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contributions to history on Monday, Knox professors gave speeches which encouraged students and community members to rethink their relationship with King’s ideas.
Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Magali Roy-Fquire put the convocation together again this year and led the event. President Teresa Amott gave her own personal, unscheduled introduction after travel plans fell through and she became free to attend.
“That was a happy disruption,” Amott told the audience.
Amott said she always returns to King’s writings this time of year, and urged students to do the same. As she read them this year, she reflected that many in the developed world have forgotten that individuals and nations cannot live alone.
The Knox College Choir turned to one of King’s favorite songs to start the program.
In his speech, Provost and Dean of the College Garikai Campbell expressed concern for the moral health of the country and a complacency about having fulfilled what King worked and died for. Quoting King and Langston Hughes’ “A Dream Deferred” Campbell asked the audience to never accept three evils: racism, materialism and militarism.
Associate Professor of History Konrad M. Hamilton’s gave the keynote speech entitled “Martin Luther King for the Twenty-first Century.”
Hamilton started by remarking that the commemoration has taken on a different tone since the 2016 election, with “nothing has changed” becoming a common refrain. He questioned how true the sentiment was, saying no one would willingly trade places with any American from 1955. The phrase can also create a “customer-service kind of mentality” and discourage activism because nothing seems to improve.
“A citizen is not a customer or simply a consumer,” Hamilton said. “Citizenship implies and requires a commitment to those other than ourselves. It carries with it the responsibility to help at correcting problems, not just pointing them out for others to fix.”
The speech also discussed Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and his relationship with King. The two never let their spiritual beliefs interfere with their common work towards civil rights, even after many of King’s supporters split from him over his opposition to the Vietnam War.
Carrying on Amott’s theme of responsibility, Hamilton reminded students that having a college education put them in the top levels of education in the world. This experience makes them future leaders for the world whether they wish to be or not.
In his poem “Tent Cities and Leaning Tower,” Professor of Africana Studies Fred Hord turned towards King’s ideas about class.
“There’s this aspect of Dr. King regarding class that I don’t think we talk enough about,” Hord said in his introduction to his poem. “In the 30 years or more that I’ve been here at Knox, Knox looks different in terms of class considerations from what it did in 1998. And I really think that in addition to the militarism, the racism, the materialism, King really stands out for me because he committed class suicide.”
The convocation concluded with three students reading poems by African-American female poets. In touching on topics from the Jim Crow South to police brutality, the poems continued the message that King’s ideas are still applicable today.