Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tamara Stevenson's Remarks for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2021
January 18, 2021
Good morning. It's so good to see all of you from near and far in this virtual gathering space, which has become our necessary way of connecting for now, to share in doing what Dr. King did during most of his shortened life: being the change he wanted to see in America and the world.
I show up in front of you this morning with both gratitude and what I believe is righteous indignation for this moment. Just like I start and end my day, I’ll begin my remarks with gratitude.
Thank you to this year’s MLK Celebration Week planning committee who tirelessly gave of their time to create this meaningful commemoration for our campus community. Thank you to our presenting sponsor, the B.W. Bastian Foundation for their generous support for our Diversity Lecture Series and our MLK Celebration Week as well, along with partnering sponsorships from Cigna, Zions Bank, and Jones-Waldo.
Thank you to Westminster College for their willingness to trust me in this role as chief diversity officer to celebrate our collective courage and challenge our collective discomfort in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Cue the righteous indignation.
We love to talk about Dr. King’s masterful speechmaking, esp. that speech about a dream. Dreams occur when people are asleep. While some of us were sleeping, here is what was happening to Dr. King:
He was arrested 29 times for his acts of civil disobedience WITHOUT illegal invasion and destruction of property. While he sat in jail those many times, he still made himself productive, penning what is probably my favorite writing of his: A Letter from a Birmingham Jail in August 1963, which he wrote in response to the open letter “A Call for Unity” written by eight local white clergymen in response to civil rights protests taking place in the area at the time. In that open letter, the clergymen took issue with events "directed and led in part by outsiders," and they urged activists to engage in local negotiations and to use the courts if rights were being denied, rather than to protest. It is presumed that the term "outsider" was a thinly-veiled reference to Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King’s Birmingham jail letter argued that direct action was necessary to protest unjust laws. Unjust laws.
Compare those calls for unity, healing, and judicial pathways to equality more than 50 years ago with similar calls today following the January 6 insurrection on the US Capitol in Washington DC during the congressional count of electoral votes from the November 2020 presidential election. Unlike many of those who tried to justify their actions, hide away from the public eye, or deny their involvement out of fear of arrest, Dr. King did not run or hide from law enforcement when engaging in civil disobedience. There was no need for family or social media to "expose" his whereabouts. He was accountable for his actions. He knew that any (and EVERY) call for justice and racial healing requires accountability. No healing can happen without accountability.
As I said earlier: just as I begin and end my day with gratitude, I begin and end my remarks in like manner: Thank you for making MLK Day a day ON and not a day OFF, starting with you showing up to this community conversation this morning. I am thankful to have the president of Westminster College here with us modeling her commitment and support of diversity and accountability.
Please join me in welcoming President Dr. Beth Dobkin.