This past weekend Webster Groves community members marched through snow and freezing temperatures from Webster Groves City Hall to the Steger/Givens school building in Rock Hill to celebrate the civil rights marches of the 1960s led by Dr. Martin Luther King(MLK) Jr
The mile-long walk culminated in the auditorium of the Steger/Givens school for the MLK Community Celebration where Webster Groves students shared poetry and essays that spoke to the importance of community and listening to the voices of children.
The Webster University Chamber Singers performed as well as the Webster Groves School District Statesmen Dance/Step teams. The night ended with a keynote address from Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ (UCC) in Florissant, Missouri.
Both Webster University and the Webster Groves Community organized events to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. Events at Webster University will continue through February to celebrate Black History month.
MLK Community Celebration in Webster Groves and Rock Hill
Blackmon, the keynote speaker, served on the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships for the White House.
Blackmon gave an address titled “And How Are the Children?” She talked about how King refused to take sides during the Cold War at the Berlin Wall. Blackmon said we are honoring a man who dedicated his life to tearing down walls that divide humanity.
“Perhaps Dr. King’s message has greater relevance today than it even had at the time when he was alive,” Blackmon said.
Blackmon challenged those in attendance to not only celebrate King and his contributions to the struggle for civil and human rights, but to emulate his courage and consciousness in the face of adversity.
“Dr. King did not challenge the effects of nationalism on the most marginalized of our society because it was politically [desirable] to do so,” Blackmon said. “Rather, Dr. King states, he did so because ‘his conscience left him no choice.’”
Later in her keynote address, Blackmon said King preached of building bridges instead of walls. She compared his refusal to take sides at the Berlin Wall to today’s partisan debate over the construction of a wall on the southern border of the U.S. She encouraged everyone in attendance to reflect on what King would think about the state of the U.S. government if he were here today to witness the prolonged shutdown and the actions of current U.S. leaders.
“We have walls – barriers to justice and equality – that must come down,” Blackmon said. “Because on both sides are children of God.”
Blackmon concluded her address by sharing the importance of unity in today’s world. She said while we don’t all need to look alike and be alike, we all need to be moving in the same direction.
“History has proven time and time again that humanity’s insatiable thirst for freedom is so strong that people will risk their lives to quench it, no matter what the barriers may be,” Blackmon said. “And there is no wall, neither physical or otherwise, strong enough or high enough to stop those who seek freedom.”
MCISA at Webster University
Webster’s Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs (MCISA) plans to host several events honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in preparation for Black History Month this February. MCISA planned a film series through the month of February and a campus-wide food drive. There will also be a lunch on Feb. 13 in Marletto’s co-hosted with Sodexo to talk about how food influenced the civil rights movement.
Larry Morris, MCISA coordinator, said this year the goal was to educate students and faculty about aspects of King’s legacy that aren’t the most popular to talk about. The film series is titled ‘65-‘68 because MCISA wanted to focus on the later years of King’s life.
“We’ve been very thoughtful about doing programs that make people think. It kind of puts you out of your comfort zone a little bit,” Morris said. “Society has done a great job of only talking about what they liked about him. They love talking about the, ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and how he was non-violent, but what they don’t talk about is between ‘65 and ‘68, King faced a lot of diversity from multiple sides.”
The film series begins on Jan. 23 with a viewing and discussion of “Eyes on the Prize” followed by “The Pruitt-Igoe Myth” on Jan. 30, “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” on Feb. 6, “Crips and Bloods: Made in America” on Feb. 13 and “Wattstax” to conclude the series on Feb. 27. All screenings are at 7:30 p.m. in Browning Hall (except Wattstax will be screened in the Winifred-Moore Auditorium).
Each film shines a light on an element of the movement that isn’t always remembered fondly. Morris said he wanted to give a holistic view of everything that was happening toward the end of King’s life and directly after his death.
“It’s our responsibility as people who are educators and who are spreading cultural diversity to make sure that our students understand that there was more than just one side and King’s legacy was very complex,” Morris said.
Non-violence is radical, Morris said, even though it’s not always thought of as a radical form of protest today. He said it is easy to get upset and react violently in situations of injustice, but there is also the opportunity to be more thoughtful and morally surpass those who are contributing to injustice.
“I think for us, we want our students to really understand the history of these people and why they did what they did as a means to show them the pathway for what they will need to do as we continue to move forward, because we’re in a very turbulent time now,” Morris said.
On Feb. 15 the MCISA will also host a Black History trivia night at 8 p.m. in Sunnen Lounge.
Freshman Ashley McFadden helped organize the event.
She said planning for the event began in November in order to complete the necessary research for the trivia questions that dive deep into many diverse aspects of black history. She said there will be a mix of difficult questions and some more general questions. All students should feel comfortable attending the event regardless of their knowledge on black history prior to the event, McFadden said.
The MLK food drive is part of honoring the service aspect of King’s life, Morris said.
“Webster is our community, so if our food pantry is low and our students are struggling on any level, it’s our responsibility as stewards of this community to make sure that they have what they need to be successful students.”