In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. week, Fairfield University welcomed back one of its own to speak in the all new Dogwood Room in the Barone Campus Center at 7 p.m. At the event, MLK: The Fierce Energy of Now: MLK’s Vision for the 21st Century, former History Professor and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke.
Dr. Williams, born in Bridgeport, Conn., is a scholar, author and activist. He is the former chief historian of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and is also highly educated on the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement.
While Dr. Williams’ presentation highlighted Martin Luther King Jr. and his views as an underlying theme, Williams’ delivery and passion regarding the material was highly unique to him.
With an engaged crowd seated in front of him, Williams touched upon many different subjects throughout the night. Utilizing the views of many famous figures from the past, including: MLK, Arrupe, Muhammed Ali and Edward R. Murrow. Williams opened with the fact that the world we live in today is much too obsessed with material objects and if we are to see any real progress in the fight for equality, we must care less for objects and more for each other.
Stating that figures like Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King had been lifted to “superhero status,” Williams expressed that they were people just like anybody else, following up this statement by declaring that what they did have was the courage to make a difference.
Dr. Williams often focused his message of social justice toward America’s youth. During his speech explaining that our generation should be held responsible for breaking old stereotypes, Williams peppered in powerful statements such as, “how are you going to tell young people to go out and set the world on fire, if you don’t tell them what to burn?”
Williams’ presentation was delivered in a way that truly engaged the audience. A speaker who can captivate a crowd the way that Williams did creates a truly moving experience. He spoke about social and political issues with a tone that did not blame the individual for society’s shortcomings, but rather the group as a whole.
“He navigated through 400 years of racism and class oppression in American history with the graceful ease and razor sharp incision of an Olympic figure skater,” commented Professor of Art History & Visual Culture Dr. Philip Eliasoph.
Since Dr. Williams is a former staff member of Fairfield University, he shaped his presentation in a way that made it particular to our community. While he undoubtedly held the University in the highest regard, Williams was not shy about pointing out some of our own shortcomings as they apply to our campus. Topics such as a lack of student diversity and the underwhelming reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement on campus were among those brought up.
“I believe his criticisms will be taken to heart and have a positive effect on our campus because he is giving the audience a reality check on the underlying issues that occur at Fairfield University,” commented Asha Perry ‘18.
Dr. Williams’ presentation was less of a demonstration and more of a call-to-action. While staff attendance seemed to be at a healthy level, student attendance seemed remarkably low for such a high quality event. The few students that were there seemed disengaged and many left the room long before the presentation had ended. “It seems self-evident that we can work more aggressively to recruit and attract more students who are demonstrating a genuine commitment to being actively engaged citizens within a highly disruptive and even chaotic moment in America’s public affairs,” commented Dr. Eliasoph.