WSSU/WFU honor MLK Jr with keynote from Michael Eric Dyson
Roughly 1,000 people showed up Monday night to attend the sold-out 18th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. program at Wait Chapel on Wake Forest University’s campus. This year’s theme was “On Common Ground: Where Do We Go from Here?”
“Dr. King is certainly one of America’s influential and inspiring figures. His message of peace and respect for all humanity resonate across the of difference and empower all of us to be our best selves,” said Dr. Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University. “
Elwood Robinson, chancellor of Winston-Salem State University, compared King’s April 16, 1963, letter from a Birmingham jail to a letter written by the Apostle Paul, reading the passage to the crowd.
“We must continue to inspire young folks to come to these universities and then go out into the world, and have the same philosophy that Dr. King talked about in 1963 when he put pen to paper,” Robinson said.
This year’s program, hosted by WFU and WSSU, featured renowned author and academic Michael Eric Dyson. The American Book Award recipient and two-time NAACP Image Award winner are considered one of the nation’s influential and renowned public intellectuals.
Dyson’s had a profound effect on American ideas throughout different areas across the world. His most recent book Can You Hear Me Now? The Inspiration, Wisdom, and Insight of Michael Eric Dyson, offers a chance for readers to sample his sharp wit, profound thought and eloquence on the problems of humanity from love to justice, and the latest topics of the day, including race and the presidency. His first book on King, I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr, is thought to have recovered the radical legacy of the slain civil rights leader.
In his speech, Dyson said the Martin Luther King was “a man who made America great.”
“When we look at both the psychological and theological or religious elements of Dr. King, we begin to grapple with what he was as a symbol of so much that was poignant and important to us,” he said. “When we think about Martin Luther King, Jr. we do think about America. He was deeply invested as an American citizen but when he was born his citizenship was not as sure as others.”
Dyson said that King’s belief in the constitution was what made him such a strong advocate for civil rights. He said that he took those words as a foundation and a birthright.
“He saw those words as a living and breathing document. At the end of the day, what the man understood was that America was still forever unfolding. It’s great because it has the possibility to be great. He challenged America to become great.”
Both universities presented ‘Building the Dream’ awards to professors, administrators or students who exemplify King’s qualities and promote diversity within their communities as part of the program. This year five individuals were honored.
Winners from Wake Forest University were:
Sherri Lawson Clark, assistant professor of cultural anthropology. Lawson Clark’s research focuses on the challenges facing low-income families in public housing.
Senior sociology major Jenny Vu Mai led a Wake Alternative Break trip to Asheville, that focused on domestic violence and sexual assault. She interned at Samaritan Ministries, a local nonprofit providing food and shelter to the needy in the Winston-Salem community. She also served as a mentor with the Freedom School program, which provides summer and after-school reading enrichment for children who might otherwise not have access to books.
Winston-Salem State University award winners:
Dana Walker, coordinator of community service oversees WSSU’s Project GIVE, Getting Involved through Volunteer Efforts program. During the 2016-17 academic year, 2,144 students volunteered 42,328 hours to local agencies.
William Gibson, a sophomore political science major from Charlotte has been elected twice as president of his class (freshman and sophomore). He is one of 62 students nationwide named to the 2017-18 class of White House HBCU All-Stars. At age six, he and his father immigrated to the United States from Liberia.
Jessica Lee Johnson, a senior psychology major from Greensboro is a member of the University Choir and the Burke Singers. To support herself at WSSU, she works late at night and on weekends at the library. She has hearing only in one ear and was unable to speak until she was well into grade school.