Activists Angela Davis and Alicia Garza visited IU on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to commemorate the 25-year anniversary of the celebration at the university. They participated in IU’s Social Justice Conference as keynote speakers.
For this year’s celebration, IU worked with the Madame Walker Legacy Center to create a day of virtual celebrations, sessions and events to shed light on Martin Luther King Jr. and his principles, including a keynote address with Davis and Garza titled “A Call To Action.”
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Students, community members, educators and staff remembered King’s legacy, including his focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
The keynote session featured guest speakers including Davis, a civil rights activist, and Garza, Black Lives Matter co-founder. The entire panel was moderated by Angela Rye, CEO of the Washington, D.C. based political advocacy firm IMPACT strategies. Nearly 530 participants attended the session.
Maqubè Reese, assistant director of Diversity Initiatives in the Kelley School of Business, led a session titled “This is America: Teaching an Accurate Reflection of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” on Monday.
Reese and co-host Rosalyn Davis, director of mental health counseling at IU-Kokomo, discussed how to address internal biases and encouraged leaders to create new policies and spaces that include everyone.
“For this multiracial democracy that we need, white folk and white communities need to have a reckoning that they have not had yet,” Garza said.
“Justice for Black people will not flow into society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory, nor will a few token changes quell the yearnings of disadvantaged Black people,” Davis said. “White Americans must realize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.”
During the segment, Garza said people use the day to sanitize King in his most authentic state, meaning that his less threatening approaches to injustice received the most attention and approval ratings.
“It is Black power that is sending some in this country into a rage,” Garza said.
IU graduate Faith Girton is the founder of Campus Curls and Coils. She agreed with Garza’s attribution of sanitation to King’s teachings and philosophies.
“The reason why MLK has a day and not Malcolm X is because his teachings were sanitized and used to ease white America,” Girton said.
Davis, a civil rights activist, writer and professor, said the work of activists is important because the work that is unseen is often the most impactful.
“The work that really matters is the work that is generally not seen,” Davis said. “Of course mobilizations are important, but those mobilizations only indicate how important the organizing has been.”
Davis said once Black people complete a major accomplishment within this field of work, it is assumed that the job is done.
The issue of injustice and inequality faced by Black people is not one created by Black people and so cannot be dismantled by Black people, Davis said.
“White people have to begin to recognize that this is their problem,” Davis said. “They have to recognize that they have a strong stake in a future of justice and equality and freedom as anyone else.”
Garza said people need to first see themselves as leaders and decide what kind of present they want.
“People on campuses, such as Indiana University, have to look very closely at the structure of their curriculum, they have to stop marginalizing Black studies and Indigenous studies and Latinx studies,” Davis said.
Davis and Garza agreed a radical shift will have to occur in the structures of society and is essentially the only way to ensure our long term survival.