Whitman celebrates King’s legacy

Emily Lin-Jones

Samuel McKinney, a contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will share his colleague’s legacy with the Whitman community in a lecture on Thursday, Jan. 26. His lecture will mark the end of a series of events sponsored by the Intercultural Center and the Black Student Union.

In past years, Whitman has celebrated with a peace march on King’s birthday. This year, the decision was made to accompany the march with several related events. This extended program coincides with the introduction of the ‘Teaching the Movement’ program at Whitman, in which student volunteers teach about the Civil Rights Movement in local public schools.

Intercultural Center Program Advisor Matt Ozuna discussed this year’s changes.

“We took into consideration what the Student Engagement Center was doing with ‘Teaching the Movement’ and wanted to kind of snowball all these events into one week,” he said.   “The march is usually done when students aren’t on campus. It’s always problematic. We want to have this march, it’s an integral part of our activities and our way to honor MLK’s legacy. But how do we capture that and bring that to a larger audience? The only way was that [the events need] to span a week, when the students are actually on campus.”

A student panel was held on the evening of Wednesday, Jan. 18 in Jewett Hall, featuring eight panelists from the Black Student Union, and moderated by Associate Professor of History, Nina Lerman. The panel covered topics ranging from modern attitudes toward the Civil Rights Movement, to race relations on campus. Panelists shared their experiences learning about the Civil Rights Movement in school, and discussed ways to combat the absence of any conversation about race at Whitman.

The panelists came from varied backgrounds. Some with very personal investment in the history of the Civil Rights Movement and its future at Whitman.

“I really identify a lot with the civil rights movement because I’m from South Africa and I’ve had to see the ramifications of apartheid on my mother’s generation and even on my generation… I’ve had a real encounter with what racial discrimination is like and [with]  the fact that it still exists,” said first-year panelist Mcebo Maziya. “At a community like Whitman, which is unfortunately not as diverse as we would like, I think the emphasis of this week creates a lot of awareness of such issues . . . I want to contribute towards letting people know what minorities still face in this country, and draw parallels with other countries.”

Maziya and other members of the club stressed the need for an ongoing dialogue about race and diversity at Whitman.

“I find it really important to have these kind of discussions because it’s not talked about a lot,” said Co-President of the Black Student Union, first-year Alisha Agard.

The Black Student Union’s other Co-President, junior Bao-Tram Do agreed, also pointing out the lack of attendance at the panel compared to other events.

“It’s interesting to note that at our march, there were more than 60 people, but at something like this, there’s barely anyone. Why are people open to a march and celebrating and all of that, but scared of getting their hands dirty and talking about kind of uncomfortable, realistic things?” she said.

Maziya agreed that more student participation was needed.

“Education does happen outside the classroom. Something [students] need to realize is that Whitman College is not all about what you’re going to get out of a textbook. They need to be involved in things that are happening [here], especially about race and minorities,” said Maziya.

Despite relatively low attendance, Do said she was pleased with the outcome of the panel.

“I think the conversation went really great,” she said.

The final event of the week, a lecture by Samuel McKinney, a contemporary of Dr. King and a Seattle native, was planned for Jan. 19, but postponed due to weather issues. The lecture will take place at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26 in Maxey Auditorium.

UPDATE: The lecture by Samuel McKinney has been canceled due to mechanical malfunctions on his flight.