Knox held its 19th annual commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Jan. 20th honoring his legacy through speeches, music and poetry. The event was led and organized by Associate Professor and Chair of Gender and Women’s Studies Magali Roy-Fquire.
Professor of Music Laura Lane directed the Knox College Choir in the performance that opened the convocation, singing “To Sit and Dream” and “Woke Up This Mornin,” a notable song from the Civil Rights era.
Professor and Chair of Africana Studies Fred Hord was scheduled to be one of the speakers at the event, but was unable to attend due to still being in recovery from a recent surgery.
Professor of History Konrad Hamilton began his remarks by acknowledging Hord’s contribution in establishing Africana Studies at Knox, asking the audience to send their best wishes and prayers to Hord. Hord is planned to retire after this year.
Hamilton went on to explore what King’s message had to teach us about how to address the coming election cycle in his talk, titled “MLK for 2020!”
“Dr. King never endorsed specific political parties or candidates. I’m certainly not going to do that on this day that we honor his memory,” Hamilton said. “I do however, feel that it’s safe to assume that if Dr. King were with us today, he would say something like — don’t vote for any candidate who has recently been impeached.”
The overall message of Hamilton’s speech was not only to emphasize the importance of utilizing the right to vote, reminding the audience of the Tuesday, March 17 Illinois primary, but also to argue for the importance of sustained activism. Hamilton believed that this was key to ensuring candidates are kept to promises they make.
“Presidents need grassroots movement in order to be successful agents of change. When we end our political movement and activism at the election, we abandon our hopes and expectations to the fantasy that one person can do all the heavy lifting for the rest of us,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton noted that there exists a debate in this primary cycle between candidates who advocate for radical change and incremental movement. While Hamilton respected both perspectives, he pointed to King’s beliefs that there are moments that require urgent action.
“King would have us acknowledge that by doing nothing, or by moving incrementally, we run the terrible risk that nothing may happen at all,” Hamilton said.
Looking towards the election, Hamilton closed his speech saying that he will vote thinking about the people impacted by the election who have no vote, like children at the southern border and refugees around the world.
President Teresa Amott also spoke at the event, addressing how King’s work was instructive for a community working towards inclusivity like Knox College, in the midst of difficult political challenges.
“We come together on Dr. King’s birthday to celebrate his life and his accomplishments. But we, especially those of us who were alive back in 1968, can not help but remember his death, by violence,” Amott said. “Especially now that the incidents of hate crime [are] rising across the nation.”
In his remarks, Provost and Dean Michael Schneider drew a comparison between King and 20th century Chinese writer Lu Xun, both communicating on the need to recognize the presence of injustice in the world and the “madness” of ignoring it in our daily lives.
“In our modern technology age, where our media and our devices feed us information that we would choose to consume (…) we have a special obligation to push back against this madness,” Schneider.
The final portion of the event consisted of poetry readings. Africana Studies major Brianna Perry, junior, and English major Julian Wicks, senior, both read several poems. Roy-Fquire read a series of poems she wrote.