BIDDEFORD, Maine — For many, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which was recognized this year on Jan. 16, was a day of reflection about how far the country has come since King and others fought for civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Others enjoy it because it’s a day off from work.
But at the University of New England campus, the celebration of King’s life and work continues. King is important to the university not only because he spoke at the school when it was still St. Francis College, but also because the work he began is not over, said Donna Gasper Jarvis, director of the school’s multicultural affairs office.
On Wednesday, several hundred students gathered at the multifunction room at the campus center to celebrate King. A student singing group performed. Other students took part in a spoken-word performance, giving voice to their personal experiences with prejudice relating to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and other issues.
Keynote speaker was Dr. Tricia Rose, a professor of Africana studies at Brown University in Providence, R.I., who spoke about “The Courage to Love: Taking a Stand for Justice in the 21st Century.”
While many today like to believe prejudice and bigotry is over, said Rose, “institutionalized injustice” still exists.
Despite the civil rights movement, she said, more work must be done to bring equal access to resources like housing, education and employment.
In some ways, the situation is worse today than ever before, Rose said, because many are blind to or ignore the problem.
But despite the lack of public discourse on the issue, structural inequality is real, she said.
In the case of race, she noted that the unemployment rate is much higher for blacks than for whites. According to a report by the Center for American Progress, in July 2011 the unemployment rate was 8 percent for whites and double that for blacks, at 16 percent.
According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, the percentage of white children living in poverty in 2010 was 12 percent and the percentage of black children was 38 percent.
Rose exhorted students to recognize the reality of the structural inequalities in society and take action.
“Every time you don’t stand up for a just world, the light of love diminishes,” she said. “Challenge the status quo in service of your principles.”
For youth who want to make a difference, she advised they “roll up their sleeves” and “get involved in things that matter.” Through action and educating themselves about the issues they are interested in effecting, they can make a difference.
Rose received a bachelor’s degree in sociology at Yale University and a doctoral degree in American studies at Brown University.
She is the author of several books, including what has been termed by some as a “groundbreaking” book on the emergence of hip-hop culture, “Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America.” She is also a sought-after social critic who has been featured on CNN, NPR and MSNBC. She has contributed articles to the magazines Time and Essence as well as to the newspapers The New York Times and the Village Voice.
The celebration of King’s life and legacy continues at UNE.
On UNE’s Portland campus, Rev. Dr. H. Roy Partridge Jr. will speak on “The Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King: A Revolution of Values.” Roy, a visiting professor at Bowdoin College’s sociology and African studies departments, will speak on Feb. 1 at noon at Ludcke Auditorium.
At 8 p.m. Feb. 10, members of the UNE community are invited to “The Hang” at the campus center in Biddeford to share performance pieces on the theme “What do you stand for?”
In addition, artwork by students of UNE professor Sarah Gorham’s painting and painted book classes that illustrate visual reflections of personal values for a more civil and just world is on display on the walls of the Biddeford campus center through the end of January.
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