Office of DEI hosts first annual Martin Luther King legacy event

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the beginning of Black History Month, Harper’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion put on an event in the Wojcik Center to remember MLK on Tuesday, Jan. 31.  

Headlined by a keynote speech from activist JoAnne Bland, the event also featured music performances from members of the Harper community, with performing arts student Jessie Clanton performing a cover of Joan Baez’s “We Shall Overcome” and Dr. Markenya Williams leading a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Other highlights of the event included a liturgical dance routine from Vantenia Kelly of the Hallowed Ground ensemble and Shekinah Chapel minister Jason Williams reciting spoken word poetry. 

Bland, who attended the event via Webex, is the founder of Journeys for the Soul, an organization that specializes in civil rights tours. Her experience as an activist reaches back all the way to the ‘60s, where she and her older sisters were at the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement. As a member of The Student Non-Violence Coordinating committee, Bland was a participant in many youth-organized protests and marches and experienced the bitter realities of the segregated south. 

“By the time I was eleven years old I had been in jail thirteen documented times,” Bland recounted. 

With firsthand accounts of what it was like to work alongside Dr. King and vivid recreations of events such as the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march, Bland’s speech put the students in the shoes of the activists of yesteryear. According to Coordinator for Student Diversity Initiatives and Harper College professor Monica Shirley, having speakers that can get that feeling across is an especially powerful way to honor MLK. 

“I think because of where we are in time and space, the racial climate in America right now… I think we keep thinking that racism is eradicated and it has proven time and time again that it is not,” Shirley said. “We need to sometimes return back to those principles that Dr. King had and keep pushing for what he wanted.”