As racial incidents continue to populate news media headlines across the country, North Central College once again opened its doors for civil dialogue during the annual MLK Week. In the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and his visit to campus in 1960, the College hosted Patrisse Cullors, cofounder of Black Lives Matter, as keynote speaker. Nearly 500 people of all ages, races and hometowns gathered in Wentz Concert Hall to listen to her message and exchange ideas, which fostered an understanding of the well-publicized movement.
“This is our holiday,” Cullors said of the observance of King’s birthday on campus and across the country. “Community activists don’t have many holidays.”
Cullors pointed out that King was arrested 32 times for purposeful actions related to his work as an activist and organizer. “He understood the role of civil disobedience,” she said. “Over the last two decades, we’ve seen a sanitized version of MLK. We need to reclaim his legacy.”
Cullors, an established community leader and performance artist, has become a prominent voice for those afflicted by social injustice and discrimination. She was inspired to action by the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Cullors cofounded with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi the Twitter hashtag—and movement—#BlackLivesMatter, which has prompted activism nationwide, including Chicago.
“Black Lives Matter comes from a place of love but also a place of rage,” she said. “Our role as community organizers is to imagine something different and then create it.”
Cullors encouraged audience members to talk among themselves about what they are doing to save black lives. Her appearance included time with North Central students and her talk was followed by audience questions, moderated by Stephen Maynard Caliendo, professor of political science. The questions asked included what people of all races could do to help the movement. “We should challenge racism in the spaces where we are,” she told the audience.
“Our MLK Week committee chose Patrisse Cullors because, besides being one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, she’s part of a new wave of activists that we hope our students can relate to,” said Dorothy Pleas, North Central’s director of multicultural affairs. “She’s thoughtful, compassionate and educated,” added Brandon Barnes ’16, a sociology/anthropology major, who attended with his high school-aged son.
The annual Prayer Breakfast included an inspirational message by William Davis ’71, who spoke about his personal memories of King’s life and death. “What for many of you is history is memory for me. I was on campus when I heard that Dr. King was murdered,” said Davis, who has had a long career in social service and serves as president of the African American Alumni Association of North Central College.
“Black Lives Matter comes from a place of love but also a place of rage. Our role as community organizers is to imagine something different and then create it.”