“Voices of the unheard” was the theme of this year’s MLK Luncheon at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, which also premiered the university’s first Black Lives Matter conference.
The theme recalled Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote calling riots “the voices of the unheard.” The morning preceding the traditional luncheon and awards ceremony included the first Black Lives Matter conference, addressing the reasons the racial equality movement came to prominence following the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and the riots in Ferguson, as well as issues of race relations and the condition of black people in America. It included discussion panels of students and faculty, hosted by associate chancellor Venessa Brown and history professor Anthony Cheeseboro.
Luncheon keynote speaker Rev. Traci Blackmon called on all listening to hear more from Martin Luther King Jr. than his “I Have a Dream” speech. Blackmon said it is too easy to hear the comforting words without a call to action. She listed issues such as immigration reform, the war on drugs, the Black Lives Matter movement, the water crisis in Flint, Mich., prison reform and the budget crisis in Illinois among the issues that have racial and socioeconomic repercussions, and said that people of conscience cannot just sit by the sidelines.
“We have become a nation adept at distancing our celebrations from our sins,” she said. “It is easier to embrace the King who invites us to dream than it is the one who challenges us to deconstruct our oppressive ideologies.”
It is easier to embrace the King who invites us to dream than it is the one who challenges us to deconstruct our oppressive ideologies.
Rev. Traci Blackmon
Blackmon said it is incumbent on everyone to speak for those who don’t have a podium or a pulpit and may not have the influence of those listening in the Meridian Ballroom on Wednesday.
“Dr. King was indeed a voice for those who are unheard,” Blackmon said. “Those of us who seek to remember him, who seek to celebrate him, must not ever cease to call out injustice wherever it is found. For justice is what love looks like in public.”
Performances included the SIUE Black Theater Workshop and a soloist from the SIUE Gospel Choir.
The university also honored individuals with humanitarian awards and a student scholarship. Narbeth Emmanual, retired vice chancellor for student affairs, received the community humanitarian award. Mass communications professor Musonda Kapatamoyo received the faculty humanitarian award. Lara Jennings, a counselor at the East St. Louis Center, received the staff humanitarian award.
This year’s recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship is Jasmine French, a senior at Collinsville High School who intends to study mathematics.
The essay award went to Ian Hurford of Edwardsville, a student at St. Louis University High School. The poetry award went to Bella Neuman of Chesterfield, Mo., a student at Parkway Central High School. The visual arts award went to Zuan H. Le of St. Louis, a student at McKinley Classical Leadership Academy.