Every year, Wittenberg takes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as an opportunity to remind the student body and the community of the fight for civil rights and racial equality in America and on Wittenberg’s campus.
In addition to workshops that connect the American civil rights’ movements to academic topics like Communication or Political Science, the campus also hosts a speaker at a yearly convocation address. This year, Wittenberg had the honor of welcoming Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, current president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to speak at the MLK convocation held on Monday, Jan. 20. The process of getting Hrabowski to Witt was, according to professors, 3 years in the making.
Hrabowski was named by “TIME” magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012, and among America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009. Hrabowski has also served former President Barack Obama as a chair in the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. He is currently in his 28th year as the President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
At the convocation, Wittenberg’s President Michael Frandsen briefly welcomed Hrabowski to Wittenberg’s campus. Frandsen said of civil rights and activism on Wittenberg’s campus that “much is accomplished, but far more is needed.”
Following a brief but impactful performance from the Imani gospel choir, Vanessa Ordua Zarazua (’20), president of Student Senate, in her introduction of Hrabowski, acknowledged the student executive committee of the organization Concerned Black Students (CBS), whose work to “cultivate and promote a culture of diversity and inclusion at Wittenberg” has been, and is today, unwavering.
Hrabowski began his address by acknowledging the importance of the education of America’s children.
“Children matter, and we should teach them that they matter,” Hrabowski urged.
Hrabowski also recognized members of the National Council of Negro Women, who attended the convocation.
Titled “Holding Fast to Dreams: A 50-year Experiment in American Higher Education,” Hrabowski’s address highlighted the value of dreams and how they shape our values and determine who we will become.
“There are two groups of people in American society,” Hrabowski claimed, “those who are fortunate to have their dreams achieved, and those who always seem to have their dreams, in the words of Langston Hughes, ‘deferred.’” To Hrabowski, the privilege of education is the determining factor for whether people achieve their dreams, making the student body of Wittenberg University “among the most privileged people on the face of the earth.”
The liberal education we receive at Wittenberg gives us the thirst to learn, because “the more we learn, the more we realize that there’s so much more to learn,” said Hrabowski. What we learn shapes our thoughts, which in turn, shape our actions.
“Actions become habits, habits become character and your character, it is your destiny.”
Hrabowski closed his address by encouraging the audience to watch their words and have the courage to stand strong in the face of adversity. He mentioned and recognized his grandmother, who fought to earn her right to vote as a citizen of the United States in the 60s. Who overcame the absurdly difficult literacy test in Alabama put in place in the 60s to prevent African Americans from the right to vote and became a voting citizen of the United States at 70 years old.
Following the convocation, members of CBS stood outside of Weaver Chapel in protest, holding posters that demanded increased diversity among Wittenberg’s faculty, following the faculty cuts that sparked months of debate last semester.
Kierstin Hawkins (’23), Alana Bell (’23) and Lea Blander (’23), members of CBS, held a sign titled “Reasons We Need a More Black and Diverse Faculty.” The poster cited information taken from a study done by the American Association of University Professors, which stated that studying under minority professors led to a positive impact on education, a higher student retention, creating more diverse and critical classroom discussions, and developing exposure to real-world experiences outside the classroom.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a reminder for all of us to remember the sacrifices made in the fight for equality for minorities of color in America, not just on Jan. 20, but every day.