By Clare Kolenda
The house was standing room only as Albion college students and city residents crowded in the historic Bohm Theatre last Tuesday night for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration.
Conversation buzzed in the room until the first moments of the program. The theater was alive with excitement and Albion pride. College President Mauri Ditzler spoke first, touching on the spirit of Albion.
Ditzler spoke on the recent focus on renovation projects and renewal of the downtown area.
“The spirit of Albion that has been here, it still exists,” Ditzler said.
It was this spirit that brought students straight from classes, wearing sweats and sneakers, and longtime Albion residents dressed in their Sunday best together. The convocation celebrated Albion’s history and its journey toward making a difference in the lives of the people living in the community.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Ruth Holland Scott, who touched on the topic of community and talked about how it shaped her life.
Scott is an Albion alumna, graduating cum laude with the class of ‘56, before going on to earn a master’s degree and receive two honorary doctorates. She served as an educator for 21 years before becoming the first African-American woman to be on the Rochester, New York city council.
Her road to success was paved by a love of learning and strong work ethic instilled by her father, who had been a long time resident of Albion and an active member in the NAACP. Yet it wasn’t just the support of her parents, but of her community, that made an impact on her growing up years.
“Even guys who hung on the corner, and didn’t do much else all day, would say when they saw me coming, ‘You know I hear you’re a pretty smart girl, you go girl. Do everything you can. You get your education.’”
Scott praised the Albion community for its spirit, which reminded her of her own childhood. The dream that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about 52 years ago is still working in Albion now. She also encouraged everyone in the room to not lose hope or become discouraged, even when there is not much evidence of results.
“Part of our challenge in realizing the dream is to understand that the success will sometimes only show itself every 10 years, every 100 years, every 50 years. We hope to get to a point where it shows itself all the time.”
As Scott continued to share her story, she included details of her growing up in a segregated Albion, which dictated where she could live, limited her to one night at the skating rink, permitted her from having a library card and even forbade her to try on clothes in the local boutique stores. Scott even recounted about how the Bohm used to be a segregated movie theatre. Even with the memories of racial prejudice, it was the hope in her story that captured the audience.
“It was interesting to be here in the Bohm, because the last time I was here, I had to sit in the balcony. I’ve come a long way from the balcony to the podium,” Scott said with a little laugh.
Scott’s story is one that brings honor to Albion and personifies Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. One that speaks of peace and justice for all, no matter what name, color of skin, or past you have. Her message, not made up to make entertainment or filled with fictitious facts, is especially important for students to remember today to push past the obstacles they face, and pave their way toward a better future.
Photos by Jennifer McDonell and Spencer White