Ten days after what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 87th birthday, more than 200 students, faculty, and staff gathered in Gasson 100 to celebrate his legacy.
The Monday event, Are We Still Dreaming, is part of an annual memorial gathering to honor King.
The Office of Campus Ministry’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Gathering Steering Committee hosted the event, along with the Black Student Forum, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Scholarship Committee, the Multicultural Christian Fellowship, the Dominican Association at Boston College, the Office of Student Involvement, Eradicate Boston College Racism, University Mission and Ministry, and the Learning to Learn Office.
Brittany N. Packett, the executive director of Teach for America in St. Louis, Mo. and the event’s keynote speaker, encouraged students to speak out about injustices and ignore those who try to silence them. Packett explained that she attended an elite, private high school where she was still bullied because of her racial identity.
“I was spit at by another classmate who said I was ‘stirring the pot,’” she said.
The classmate told her that nothing would be done because his father was on the board of the school, and he was right—nothing was ever done.
“How I want to act upon this being my last semester is making sure that every student here knows the resources that are available to them. And that what your zip code is and what city you come from shouldn’t determine what happens after your collegiate experience.”
-Cai Thomas, MCAS ’16 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar
Packett works on issues of educational equity, youth leadership development, and social justice, with a focus on culturally responsive leadership in marginalized communities. She has been one of the voices to portray the narratives of Ferguson, activism, policy, and racial justice to media outlets, including The New York Times, TIME magazine, USA Today, MSNBC, and CNN.
“There will always be an excuse of its equity,” she said, “because it threatens the status quo and keeps some comfortable while the rest of us suffer. ‘We win’ doesn’t mean ‘you lose.’ Eradicate ‘equitable and inclusive’ democracy and create space for the sun to shine on all of us.”
Prior to the event, BC community members marched in honor of the Civil Rights Movement and of King. Later, the United Voices of Freedom, led by newly appointed director David Freeman Coleman, sang songs, including “Go Down Moses” and “Precious Lord Take My Hand/Glory,” throughout the evening. Shelly-Ann Dewsbury and Kadesh Simms, two guest performers, also performed a dance to “Amazing Grace.” Cai Thomas, MCAS ’16 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholar, also spoke.
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically … Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education,” Thomas said, quoting King.
She asked the audience where BC successfully does what King said education should do, and where it lacks in fulfilling his message.
“I think there is sort of three ways of thinking about it: there is dreaming, there is thinking, and there is acting,” she said. “How am I acting? How are you acting?”
As a freshman, she said, she felt comfortable because she went to a prepatory high school that was very similar to BC, but many of her friends struggled to adjust to the BC culture.
Since her freshman year, Thomas said, BC has implemented many new formal and informal programs to help minority students, including mentoring groups, United Front—a group that seeks to foster a supportive, interactive, unified and safe community to celebrate Black culture and its identities within the African Diaspora—and the Learning to Learn Office, which aims to help underprivileged students and students with disabilities make the most of their college experience.
Thomas said she came into BC not knowing about all of the resources available at the University.
“How I want to act upon this being my last semester is making sure that every student here knows the resources that are available to them,” she said. “And that what your zip code is and what city you come from shouldn’t determine what happens after your collegiate experience.”
Students should engage in active thinking, Thomas said. Last semester was the first time she was taught by a black faculty member, and she could not help but wonder if it will be the same if her twelve-year-old brother decides to come to BC.
“That’s not something I want,” she said. “How do we celebrate different identities here on this campus? Are we inclusive?”
Correction: this article has been updated to reflect the fact that the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday was Jan. 15, not Jan. 25.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor