UAlbany 2019 Martin Luther King JR. Celebration – Featuring Rev. Dr. William Barber II

By Allie Catalano

The Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration held by the University at Albany is an annual event to further expand the knowledge of racism that persists even since Dr. King’s death. The event was held in the Campus Center Ballroom to accommodate a large crowd brought in by this year’s keynote speaker Rev. Dr. William Barber II. His many accolades in the movement to end racism have brought him a great deal of attention and given him the authority to set the tone for the celebration of a great man.

Dan Bazile, a news anchor for local Spectrum news, and the celebration’s host began with some opening remarks. He discussed how MLK Jr. sacrificed his life for others and had three important characteristics that made that sacrifice for others possible; unconditional love, non-violence, and compassion. These words resounded through the ballroom touching the hearts of each in attendance.

The next to speak was the president of the University, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, he stated that this year more than ever the MLK celebration is crucial as the school moves toward its 175 anniversary. Simply stated yet powerfully received Dr. Rodríguez said, “It is a work in progress to address bias, prejudice, and racism in our institutions. It is imperative that we do so”.

Dr. Leonard Slade, a professor of Africana Studies and adjunct professor of English at the University, then led the audience in prayer. The powerful words left the crowd with what is needed to “heal the past and redeem the present”.

The keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. William Barber II, made his entrance to uproarious applause from an enthusiastic crowd. He began by telling the audience that he “doesn’t do celebrations” and that instead the best way to honor the life of MLK Jr. is to recommit oneself to the cause. He went on to say that we “persevere for the salvation of the soul”; a point he contended many times throughout his speech and that through this perseverance we can try to find ourselves again.

Dr. Barber told the audience how at the same time last year he stood on the spot where MLK Jr. himself was murdered he called it “a holy ground”. He explained that it was holy in the sense that people all over the world pilgrimage to places where martyrs die “not to simply remember, but to recommit to the same struggles they gave their lives for”. He exclaimed to a strong reaction from the crowd that we “have to pick up the baton”. Dr. Barber then returned to his previous point which was that who we are in times like these is truly critical saying that, “America struggles with knowing who she is, she has a split personality politically, socially, theologically etc. She has always suffered from what she is and what she wants to be”.  The strength of unity in the crowd only intensified after those powerful words.

He continued on with this intensity saying that “we are a nation in crisis” and that we can’t just continue to pass the blame. Dr. Barber said the wall our current President wants to build is a symptom of our identity crisis. In Dr. Barber’s opinion that symptom is that so much of the country is poor and because of that they are simply seen as one race of “poor” rather than a diversity of cultures, when the reality is that the US is a melting pot of all races.

He relayed a quote to the audience that his grandmother always said, “If you scratch a liar, you’ll find a thief.” Referring to how many politicians can be. He discussed the last speech MLK Jr ever gave and how he said that we would get to “the promised land one day” a world without hate or prejudice. Dr. Barber ended by saying repeatedly “it’s time, it’s time, it’s time” to come together and stand up for what is right. He exited to a standing ovation from the crowd.

This event was a joint effort between Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Student Association, in collaboration with the New York State Writers Institute.