Two days of events honor MLK memory

Throughout Sunday and Monday, various groups within the College community hosted an extensive series of events to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The celebrations began with an art quilt presentation on Sunday, followed by a documentary on MLK contemporary Bayard Rustin.

Stewart Burns
Stewart Burns, coordinator of community engagement, lead a talk and discussion on Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday evening. Photo courtesy of Caleb Baer.

On Monday, a variety of presentations took place in Paresky throughout the day, including an afternoon discussion on social justice in the Berkshires involving local community members, as well as a lecture by Stewart Burns, coordinator of community engagement, in the evening.

“Our goal was to make MLK’s legacy as relevant as possible to students today,” said Emily Hertz ’13, a member of Students for Social Justice and one of the coordinators of the event. “It’s important to think about history and the civil rights movement, but it’s also important to think about how the legacy lives on, because the fight for justice isn’t over.”

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, quilt artists Jeanne Marklin and Betty Warner showcased 24 quilts in their presentation, titled “Unspoken Truth about Color: A Dialogue in Art Quilts about Racism” held in the lobby of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. Later in the evening, the Multicultural Center Change Series organized a showing of the documentary “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin.” Rustin was one of the first freedom riders and also served as an advisor to King, helping to organize the famous 1963 March on Washington.

Monday’s events opened with a social change media project in Baxter Hall. The event included a screening of the documentary “Citizen King” and a slideshow of activists and social and cultural scholars from multiple social movements. College librarians Christine Menard and Mercedea Shriver simultaneously presented historical documents on the civil rights movement in a display titled “Understanding the Times and Reason for Movement: A Library Exhibit.”

The Winter Study course “Realities and Representations of Native Americans,” taught by Laura Spero, also presented in Schapiro Hall on the subject of Native American protests during the American Indian movement and Red Power movement of the 1960s.

Fifth- and sixth-grade students from Williamstown Elementary School gathered in Paresky in the early afternoon to read essays and poems they had written. This was immediately preceded by a moment of silence for King as well as the sharing of a few words on the importance of the day. Proceedings were led by President Falk and Muslim Chaplain Bilal Ansari.

The Williams College Museum of Art also opened an exhibit this weekend titled “African Americans and the American Scene, 1929–1945.” The exhibit, curated by Dalila Scruggs, Mellon curatorial fellow for diversity in the arts, and Sandra Burton, Lipp Family director of dance, examined the role of African Americans in visual and performing arts during the Great Depression. Professor of Political Science Alex Willingham joined Scruggs and Burton and provided historical background on the period’s impact on King.

In the afternoon, six local speakers, educators and activists gave short talks on their experiences with social justice in the community in a forum titled “Continuing the Fight for Justice: Active Engagement in the Berkshires and Beyond.” The event was organized by Students for Social Justice. It began with three speakers from Higher Ground, an organization founded in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene to deal with the huge loss of affordable housing in the local area. Tom Sheldon, a town selectman; Carol Zingarelli, a resident of The Spruces; and Carrie Bail, pastor of the First Congregational Church, shared their insights into the issue and their perspectives on Higher Ground. Sheldon spoke specifically to difficulties in gaining public support as a member of the town government. Zingarelli spoke of the individual effects of the tropical storm and the impressiveness of the rebuilding process. Bail, having spearheaded the effort that started with the town’s church community, described the process and spoke of the underlying economic inequity in Williamstown.

Following the three speakers from Higher Ground, Chip Joffe-Halpern, director of a local non-profit healthcare access program called Ecu-Healthcare, spoke on the importance of ensuring that President Obama’s health care law is sustained to make health care universally available. Lee Harrison, head of Berkshire Brigades, a local Democratic Party organization, advocated support of Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren as a way to continue to strive for the social values for which King fought. Ben Klompus, principal of The Berkshire Arts and Technology Public Charter School (BaRT), a charter college-prep school in Adams, ended the talk by describing his school’s commitment to closing the achievement gap. BaRT’s goal is to ensure that 100 percent of the school’s students, most of whom are underprivileged, will be prepared to attend college.

During this time, a letter-writing campaign to Amnesty International regarding Guantanamo Bay also took place. Programming also included a social justice petition and an activity about examining privilege.

In honor of MLK Day, all three dining halls hosted the College’s seventh annual MLK community dinner.

The day’s celebrations concluded with a talk and discussion in Paresky Auditorium. Burns, who has written extensively on King’s life and work, led the session, entitled “Breaking the Silence of the Night: Dr. King’s Call to Serve in 2012,” to close out the evening.

“The MLK programming at Williams seems to be following the national trend of focusing that day on community engagement, and including Williamstown Elementary School helps ensure that the following generation will be aware of Dr. King and his importance,” said Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for Public Affairs. “Thanks go to all who helped plan and carry out this year’s events.”