On Jan. 16, the Westminster community honored the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. with a keynote address given by David Stovall, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of Black studies and criminology, law and justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Before Stovall spoke in Werner Centennial Center, Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Devonna Hall issued students a call to action. “You can be the change. You are the most important factor in the transformation we are trying to make in this country and in this world to make it a better place for everyone,” Hall said. “As you listen to Dr. Stovall, I want you to think about how you can be a part of the transformation.”
In his address, Stovall said many people often reduce MLK Day to his “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered to a massive group of civil rights marchers gathered around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. in August 1963.
“That’s a problem because Dr. King had a radical shift in his understanding in the years following that speech,” said Stovall.
King’s later speeches, though less popular, were more radical. King led his first anti-war march in Chicago March 25, 1967, and reinforced the connection between war abroad and injustice at home: “The bombs in Vietnam explode at home — they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America,” he declared.
The military funds the government was pouring into the war, King said, were eviscerating programs aimed at rehabilitating the country’s poor that had barely started to make a dent in the problem.
Today, “one-tenth of our military budget would repair every school in the United States and still have money left over,” said Stovall. As King said, “we have a revolution of values,” Stovall continued, making a point for young people to understand how economic systems impact social structure.
King understood that America’s youth had the power to initiate positive change in society. Stovall pointed to the Children’s Crusade, a march by over 5,000 school students in Birmingham, Alabama in May 1963. The purpose of the march was to walk downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation in their city. But a group of fourth graders wanted to march in front. King thought it would be dangerous and could be perceived as a ploy by the march organizers to garner attention. But the fourth graders insisted it was their idea to march in front and not the work of adults and in the end, they led the march. The event compelled President John F. Kennedy to publicly support federal civil rights legislation and eventually led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Following Stovall’s address, students met in “home groups” to discuss further King’s legacy and the civil rights movement and later gathered again in Werner to listen to a performance by the Nat Reeves Trio. Head of School Elaine White, meanwhile, took part in town wide celebration of MLK Day in Simsbury, where she read “The Purpose of Education,” an excerpt from an article written by King as a student for the Morehouse College student newspaper in 1947. Later that year, King would return to Simsbury for his second summer of working in the tobacco fields, a Morehouse College program to help students pay for their education.