Community Celebrates “Unsung Heroes”

Do you know who Fannie Lou Hamer was? Last Monday, this question was the title of a workshop in which students learned about Hamer’s work as a civil and women’s rights activist. On Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day, the community celebrated heroes of the Civil Rights Movement whose labors and sacrifices are unsung. This year, the Black and Hispanic Student Alliance (BaHSA), in conjunction with a faculty planning committee, brought a new structure to the MLK Day program by adding interactive workshops and moving the keynote speaker to the previous evening.

Each year, the BaHSA board chooses the theme of MLK Day inspired by Dr. King’s values. This year, the theme “Unsung Heroes of the Civil Rights Movement” was inspired by Dr. King’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, in which he expressed gratitude to the often-overlooked people without whom progress would not have been made. 

Last Sunday night, following a performance by the gospel choir, Mr. Nyle Fort, a minister, activist, and scholar, spoke about current civil rights and justice issues, including mass incarceration and police brutality.  BaHSA co-head Scott Shrager ’19 said, “I like his message that people need to be accountable for one another. Just because you didn’t directly contribute to the problem doesn’t negate your responsibility to fight against it. That [message] touches on universal empathy and how we need to…consider issues through the lens that we are all humans and that something that is affecting a specific group of people is a threat to everybody.”

In previous years, all MLK Day programs took place on one day. However, the program this year continued on Monday with workshops run by students, faculty, and alumni. Twenty-three different workshops, ranging from “Empathy & EFX Creation” to “13th Documentary Screening & Panel Q&A,” were offered. In the latter workshop, participants watched 13th, a documentary exploring the Thirteenth Amendment loophole that allows those convicted of crimes to be deprived of their liberty. The film traces the ways in which racist exploitation of this loophole has resulted in the modern era of mass incarceration. Charlie Comfort ’21, who attended the workshop, said, “The film talks in depth about the sheer exploitation and segregation of minorities because they were simply born that way. It is a big wake-up call for someone like me, who had no experience with any of that and no understanding of the kind of oppression that these people [have] experienced.”

Dr. Rachel Myers, director of diversity and inclusion, said, “I spent some time in the Athlete Activist section, which was completely student-led. …There is the entertainment piece, the learning, the sharing of something new, the leaning into the discomfort sometimes, and that’s all the things [the MLK Day program] offers.”

The day wrapped up with discussions and reflections on the day in advisory groups. Isaac Alicea ’20, board member of BaHSA, said, “MLK Day does an amazing job of teaching us values of love, respect, acceptance, but then, it doesn’t really last very long. We will continue to look for ways to keep [up] the energy we get from MLK Day and make this feeling more sustainable.”