Faculty motivates students to uplift black voices while celebrating MLK

Written by: Andrea Marin Contreras and Halle Sembritzki, The Collegian

After months of racial tension and protests in different parts of the country, Fresno State celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life with a variety of speeches, photography, poetry and music from current and former faculty members and students on Jan. 22. 

Ramar Henderson, an assistant professor of counselor education and rehabilitation at Fresno State, was the keynote speaker of the event. 

Interim president Dr. Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval and Professor Emeritus Sudarshan Kapoor of philosophy delivered speeches on the importance of celebrating Dr. King’s life and how his legacy impacts Fresno State. 

Fresno State’s Peace Garden serves as a memorial to civil rights activists as it honors Mahatma Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Dr. Martin Luther King and Jane Addams with bronze statues. 

It is a yearly tradition on campus to commemorate these civil rights activists with an in-person event where Kapoor, the university president and keynote speakers deliver speeches. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took place virtually on Zoom with 62 participants. 

Henderson delivered his speech, “To pay homage,” in honor of Dr. King. 

In his speech, Henderson listed important concepts to remind the audience of the importance to “get the language right” in order to uplift Black people. 

The first concept in Henderson’s speech was “language is key.” He said it is important to pay attention to the language used in social media and news outlets toward Black people.

For example, Henderson said that when Black people participate in non-violent protests their movements are classified as “riots” and perceived as destructive toward the community.

Henderson also highlighted that there are narratives, either on social media or news, that “negate, overlook or just do not lift up the narratives of black geniuses.”

Additionally, his speech focused on how “seeking validation from the oppressor” does not empower Black voices. 

“Seeking validation from the oppressor means trying to reason with white supremacy and asking why we are treated so badly,” Henderson said. “To be Black and proud means that our existence is rooted in strength, in a strength-based approach. Black is beautiful.”

Black people should seek validation within their own community rather than with the mostly white system that has failed them all these years, Henderson said.

Jiménez-Sandoval read an excerpt from Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and stated how important Dr. King’s teachings are and how they reflect on Fresno State. 

“As the premier institution of higher learning that we are, Fresno State harbors and promotes the ideas Dr. King represents and truly embodies within his words and also within his actions,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “We at Fresno State have the responsibility not only to further Dr. King’s actions but also to embody them on the every day.”

Dr. King’s speech, “I am Black and I am Proud,” was shown during the event. This speech was delivered on Apr. 12, 1968, a day before King’s assassination. Additionally, the commemoration included poetry and songs from students and faculty members.

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