In March of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech to Albion College students and community members at Goodrich Chapel. 60 years later, a new group of students and Albion community members gathered at the Bohm Theater to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy at the annual MLK Convocation and Community Celebration.
The celebration began with music. The Albion Community Choir singers’ voices echoed off the theater walls as the audience settled in.
After the spiritual number was finished, Dr. Ashley Woodson, associate vice president for academic outreach and student development, and first-year student Skylar Anderson took the stage and officially welcomed the crowd.
“I think Dr. King would have words of encouragement for Albion College students who have advocated for equity and inclusion on campus, those whose persistence has created diverse identities, thoughts, and experiences,” Anderson said.
Then, pastor Steve Williams took to the podium for the invocation prayer, giving the audience a heartfelt sentiment to mull over.
“We believe this evening that we can certainly celebrate the understanding that in love and in caring we can make our nation a better place,” said Williams.
A brief message from Interim President Joe Calvaruso followed. He looked around the full theater and said “what a wonderful turnout.”
History professor emeritus Dr. Wesley Arden Dick then discussed Dr. King’s legacy in Albion and the city’s history with diversity. Dick said that when King came to visit in the early 1960s, there were only half a dozen black students attending Albion College.
“In 2023, that number of African American students has climbed to 264. The number of Latino students has skyrocketed to 203,” Dick said. “Albion College’s student body has come to look like America.”
He closed his speech with an insight into Albion’s history, noting that its past isn’t so different from the story of our nation as a whole.
“Albion’s story is America’s story, Albion’s history is America’s history and the struggle for justice and democracy continues,” said Dick.
Chief Belonging Officer Taran McZee took to the podium to discuss the importance of standing up for what’s right, without fear of being judged.
McZee said that at the time of Dr. King’s death, his disapproval rating was 75%. Dr. King valued peaceful change over violence or compliance. While it may have cost him his approval at the time, Dr. King never failed to “place his integrity before his popularity,” said McZee.
President of the Albion College Black Student Alliance, Chicago senior Anthony Neal, then introduced this year’s keynote address speaker, Joe Tate.
Tate is the first Black Speaker of the Michigan House. He earned a scholarship to play football at Michigan State University, where he received his undergraduate degree in public policy. Tate then went on to play in the National Football League and subsequently served in the United States Marine Corps. After being honorably discharged, Tate returned to school, earning his M.B.A. and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of Michigan. He then worked as a program manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation before joining the Legislature.
Tate said democracy is “a practice across generations.” He said that while a lot has been done in the past hundred years to create a democracy that sees diversity as a strength, threats to democracy have risen as well. Tate cited recent voting laws that restrict absentee voting, making voting less accessible, as threats to our democracy.
“These laws are eerily reminiscent of the Jim Crow Era,” said Tate.
His call to action was simple.
“There’s always work to be done for democracy and protecting our democracy,” Tate said. “Whether it is voter registration or running for an elected office, whether it’s local or federal, whether it’s having those conversations about race and our institutions. It all needs to be done and it’s all done in a team effort.”
As the convocation neared its end, Executive Director of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Public Service Eddie Visco offered a final thanks to everyone for attending.
“To see so many people in the audience value the legacy of Dr. King says a lot about this community,” Visco said.
The Albion Community Choir filed back on stage for one last song, “Shine the Light On Us.” Before the tune began, the choir’s pianist asked audience members to pull out their phones, turn on their flashlights and let their lights shine.
The previously dark Bohm theater lit up with myriad individual lights as the choir swayed and clapped to the rhythm of the hymn. Soon the crowd joined in and the room swelled with luminescence, sound and soul.
This year’s MLK Convocation was a reflection of what Albion is at its core: a diverse community of people shining their light on a future of inclusivity, belonging, and celebration of community.