On Thursday, Feb. 15, the Martin Luther King Commemoration Committee, the Resource Center, Office for Equity & Inclusion, Student Activities and Leadership Development, and the Center for African-American Studies welcomed Dr. Joi Lewis to speak at the 2018 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Commemoration. The event took place in the Cromwell Concert Hall at 12:15 p.m.
The commemoration began with a welcome from Resource Center Director Demetrius Colvin and the MLK Commemoration Committee. He described how we, as humans, have work to do socially and politically.
“I have been changed by everything that’s been happening socially and politically,” Colvin said. “Even just what was happening yesterday in our country—I know I’ve changed. I know there’s a sense of urgency that I feel, that I didn’t feel three or four years ago. I know I’ve been changed with a sense of ‘I have to do something’ more than the routine of the things I’ve been doing. I know I’ve been changed when I can’t continue to be a bystander.”
Colvin then introduced Antonio Farias, Vice President for Equity & Inclusion. Farias discussed unity and the importance of coming together as a means to move forward.
“I want to talk about how we critique without dismembering each other,” Farias said. “How we navigate upon our weaknesses, our privileges, our power, and how we can be blind to the alliances that we necessarily have to take advantage of if we are going to continue to survive as a people.”
Natasha Guandique ’20 approached the stage next. She presented an audio recording of an excerpt from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Wesleyan Baccalaureate Address from June 7, 1964.
“You see each of us lives in two realms: the within and the without,” King said. “The within is the realm of destiny, the without is the realm of structure. The within is the realm that deals with ultimate concerns, the without deals with practical concerns…. Now the great danger is that all too often we allow the means by which we live to replace the ends for which we live. That is always the danger that we will allow the within of our lives to become absolved in the without.”
Naomi Williams ’19 followed the recording with a rendition James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” As she stated, many people regard “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as the Black National Anthem. Isaac Guzman ’21 followed Williams to introduce keynote speaker Dr. Joi Lewis.
“We gather here today to commemorate and honor one of the greatest revolutionaries and intellectuals in American history, Dr. Martin Luther King,” Guzman said. “Deliberate and humble, Dr. Martin Luther King forcefully combatted racial ideologies in pursuit of emanating love and building connection. Our speaker today, Dr. Joi Lewis, embodies the legacy of Dr. King, as she serves to build connection and sustain community.”
Dr. Joi Lewis, CEO and Founder of Joi Unlimited Coaching and Consulting, began her speech by talking about Black agency and love, especially during Black History Month. She described how all historical reform movements emanated from a place of love and joy, and that’s what needs to be carried forward.
“I do want to be sure if you get one thing from my talk today—even if you don’t get anything else—I just want to be clear. Even though I have not met most of you in my life, here’s what’s true: I love you, and I know that you love me. Because that’s what’s really true about who we are as human beings.”
She continued by discussing her personal life, describing the love, admiration, and influence she feels from her grandmother, mother, and fourteen-year-old niece. They all taught her that one must learn to experience love and joy simultaneously, and that neither can ever be turned off.
“Even though they were born at very different times, it feels like it’s still the same,” Lewis said. “Both came as teachers to me. I tell my niece Dallas all the time that she’s one of my biggest mentors. She reminds me to play; she’ll be like, ‘Can you put that phone down? Can you be here?’ And they taught me how to hold joy and pain at once.”
Lewis carried forward the theme of contradictions, the crux of her speech.
“This is the legacy of Martin Luther King,” she said. “[He and his contemporaries] questioned. They smiled, they laughed, and they cried and pushed and screamed and held contradictions. This legacy of contradictions is what we have left to hold.”
She concluded by talking about the upcoming film “Black Panther,” the power of representation for Black individuals, and the imagination of a better tomorrow.
“So, many of us are excited for the premiere of ‘Black Panther’ tomorrow no?” she said. “We so need this ‘Black Panther’ movie. We need things that cause us to imagine that there are other worlds. We are the manifestation of our ancestors’ dreams, including Dr. King’s, but we must continue to dream, imagine, and create other worlds.”
The event was then followed by a reception at Malcolm X House.
Kaye Dyja can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @kayedyja.