On Wednesday, Jan. 18, UNCG and NC A&T held a celebration in honor of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday. This commemoration has become a great tradition; the fifth consecutive year collaborative endeavor between the two schools.
The event, hosted by Jasmine Boles, Ms. NC A&T 2016-2017, and Tiaira Moragne, UNCG Homecoming Queen, was an evening based around the theme “The Role of Activism: Past and Present.” Going with this theme, the keynote speaker was DeRay McKesson, a famous political activist and educator.
The event began with a powerful performance by the NC A&T Gospel Choir, directed by Ronald Jones. The talented group beautifully sang two empowering and spiritual hymns. One song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is famous for its role in activism throughout history.
Afterwards, the audience was welcomed by Dr. Cherry Callahan, the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at UNCG, and Dr. Melody Pierce, who holds the same position at A&T. Both expressed their excitement for the event; an opportunity to inspire students to raise their voices, come together and stand up for what is right.
Following their heartfelt remarks, various artists, painters and writers were acknowledged for their work inspired by the theme of the night’s program.
Although we could not see the artworks, each artist prepared a statement about their piece, in which explained what inspired their creations.
The keynote speaker, DeRay McKesson, was next to take the stage. McKesson is interim Chief Human Capital Officer for Baltimore City Public Schools and a Fellow at University of Chicago Institute of Politics. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2007 and received his honorary doctorate from the New School in New York City earlier this year.
Recognized for “telling the truth, in public,” McKesson is an educator, activist and leading voice in the Black Lives Matter Movement. In April 2015 McKesson, along with Johnetta Elzie, Samuel Sinyangwe and Brittany Packnett, launched Mapping Police Violence; a program that collected data on people killed by police during 2014. The group also launched Campaign Zero, which is a ten point policy plan for police reform.
In 2015, McKesson and Johnetta Elzie were awarded the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award for their activism. He also was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine and one of the 30 Most Influential People on the Internet by TIME magazine. McKesson is most famous for sharing his thoughts via twitter, where he has over 600,000 followers.
DeRay explained that he is not a “doom and gloom” kind of person. He of course gets upset and angry, yet the does not wallow in these feelings. He uses them as a spark of inspiration for his ongoing fight, whether as a tweet, or marching in a protest.
In his presentation, McKesson eloquently spoke about a false-distance of history that he is observing today. He reminded us that this country was built on the backs of African Americans. Further, he emphasized the importance of acknowledging the past, in order to move forward.
He stated the difference in equality and equity. Equality is giving everyone the same thing, yet, he explained, equity is giving everyone what they need to create an equal nation. McKesson also recognized that the Black Lives Matter movement, like MLK’s, is the fight for power, who has it and how they control it. He explained that this country was built with power being forbidden to its African American members (he used the example of slaves not being allowed to read).
Further, he expresses his love of social media. He said that if issues can be discussed in such a broad, public way, it is more likely that there will be change. The more we can talk about hard topics, he said, the easier solutions will arise; and that silence is how no work is done.
Lastly, with a hopeful message of change, McKesson shared that he, personally, is not a “doom and gloom” kind of person. He obviously gets angry, yet he does not wallow, he uses it as a spark of inspiration to act; whether a tweet or protesting. He also knows that he is not the star of this show, but rather, he is one man united with millions of others, all working towards the same goal of justice.