Civil rights activist and poet Claudia Rankine carried on the sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr. by giving the keynote address at this year’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, which took place on Jan. 27.
Rankine is the author of prestigious works such as “Citizen: An American Lyric” and “Plot,” and has won numerous awards such as the 2014 National Book Circle Award, the Forward Prize for Poetry and the NAACP Image Award for “Citizen.”
Along with the convocation, last week’s observances in honor of King also included a film discussion of “Fruitvale Station;” a memorial march; a performance from spoken word poet G Yamazawa; Performing for Change, a performance from the organization which spreads awareness of controversial issues through the performing arts; Poetry for Peace, an annual poetry contest open to all Bridgeport and Fairfield students in kindergarten through eighth grade; and a Gospel Mass featuring the talents of The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit Mass Choir.
President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. gave the opening welcome at the convocation, and referred to Rankine as “one of our nation’s most influential and thoughtful poets.”
At the convocation, along with the keynote address, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Vision Awards were presented to one student, one faculty member and one staff member. These awards are granted annually to individuals who embody King’s legacy. After being nominated by community members, the winners are chosen by a committee that recognizes the “unsung heroes” of the community.
This year, these awards were presented to Joe Harding ’18, faculty member Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall, assistant professor of the practice of curriculum and instruction and director of the Connecticut Writing Project and staff member Sydney Johnson, head coach of Fairfield’s men’s basketball.
Harding, in an acceptance speech for his award, offered some inspiring words to the almost full audience of the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.
“Many times I’ve heard,” he said, “‘Why should we even bother? This world will never change. As hard as it is, I need to keep pushing forward with love. We all do … Because, if not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
In her address, Rankine emphasized the continued existence of racism in society.
She pointed to advertisements that emphasize the superiority of having paler skin shown in a video presentation and to police brutality of not only black men, but also the much ignored topic of black women as well.
However, despite these upsetting realities that Rankine addressed, her speech had a positive note as well, emphasizing the fact that many young people, including those at Fairfield, are stepping up to make a difference.
“Students have shown us the way,” she said “and have risked themselves in order to save us.”
After this statement, Rankine asked that her audience members turn to their neighbors and thank each other for making a difference.