Annual MLK Convocation, the Role of Black-Owned Media in Advocacy

Chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and former Chairman Emeritus of Ebony Media Operations, Linda Johnson Rice, smiles at the audience of the annual MLK Convocation. Held in the Bohm Theatre, the convocation included musical performances, speeches from faculty and staff and a conversation with Johnson Rice and Founder and Editor of the Flint Beat, Jiquanda Johnson (Photo by Bella Bakeman).

On Monday, students and Albion community members came together to celebrate Albion’s annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation and Community Celebration. 61 years after King visited Albion to speak at Goodrich Chapel, Albion gathered at the Bohm Theatre to remember his legacy under the theme: “Shifting the Cultural Climate Through the Study and Practice of Kingian Nonviolence.”

Preceding the event, a reception sponsored by the Albion Branch NAACP was held at the renovated bank neighboring the Bohm Theatre. 

Chairman of Johnson Publishing Company and Former Chairman Emeritus of Ebony Media Operations, Linda Johnson Rice, attended the reception before she took the stage at the convocation as its keynote speaker.

According to Johnson Publishing Company’s website, Johnson Rice’s parents founded Johnson Publishing Company in 1942, which housed Ebony and Jet magazines. For Johnson Rice, these publications allowed Black people to see themselves with a sense of pride and with a sense of purpose.

“Ebony and Jet were so important because they were the voice for Black people when they couldn’t always be heard,” Johnson Rice said at the reception. “Ebony could showcase the success Black people had.”

President of the Albion branch NAACP, Robert Dunklin said that Ebony and Jet magazines are precious to the Black community, gesturing to a bag full of Ebony magazines during the reception. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jet magazine was how Black people got their news.

“Jet magazine was the real deal,” Dunklin said. 

At the reception, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Marc Newman brought three editions of Jet magazine protected in a plastic bag. Among them was the April 18, 1968 edition, which covered King’s assassination just 14 days earlier.

“They were a connection for the community,” Newman said. “The role that it played – I mean, amazing.”

Keeping with tradition, the convocation opened with music. Pastor David Warnsley performed a song he said he wrote in 2020 after being hospitalized for COVID-19, titled “Hope.” After the performance, Vice President for Belonging and Culture Taran McZee welcomed the audience to the event, thanking them for “joining us on this icy Monday.” 

McZee also asked the audience to join in a moment of silence in memory of Dexter Scott King, King’s youngest son who died earlier on Monday. McZee said the event was meant to reflect on King’s legacy. 

“Dr. King’s teachings on nonviolence continue to resonate today,” McZee said. “His powerful speeches echo the ideas of equity and inclusion challenging us to build a society where all are treated with dignity and respect.”

Emeritus History Professor, Wes Dick, stands next to an edition of Ebony Magazine featuring MLK content. To preface the event, Dick gave a history of the importance of the MLK Convocation (Photo by Bella Bakeman).

Wesley Dick, an emeritus professor of history, spoke from the podium on the context of the event. 

“The Albion MLK celebration originated in the Albion community through the guiding hands of the Albion branch NAACP and the Albion Black churches,” Dick said. “We are here because Martin Luther King Jr. came to Albion on March thirteenth. We are here because Albion, Michigan is a diverse community.”

Following the history of the event, Jiquanda Johnson and Linda Johnson Rice took the stage.

Johnson Rice and Johnson sit down as they prepare for their conversation (Photo by Bella Bakeman).

Jiquanda Johnson, a veteran journalist known for launching the Flint Beat in 2017 according to the publication, acted as moderator. 

“I believe that no one is voiceless. They have a voice, but sometimes all they need is a megaphone, so we can hear them,” Johnson said. “I am the giver of megaphones.”

Johnson Rice answered Johnson’s questions and the questions asked by students on a range of topics, including the importance of Black-owned media. 

“Her parents were visionaries, and understood more than anyone that as Black people, we need to reclaim and control our own narratives,” Johnson said.

Johnson Rice added that the publications were equally important in their coverage during the Civil Rights Movement, covering King’s work and message.

“We sent writers and reporters and photojournalists to travel with him so that we could be able to bring back to our audiences the authenticity – exactly what King said,” Johnson Rice said. “Where was he, what was he feeling, what was he thinking – and that is coming from a Black perspective.”

Johnson Rice said that this connection is what makes platforms like Ebony and Jet magazines important. Her message was to keep moving forward.

“Let’s try to continue to move forward together,” Johnson Rice said. “We’ve been so divisive in this lifetime, and it’s just annoying to me because it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Johnson Rice, who is also the president of the Chicago Public Library board of directors, said that reading is an important part of making change.

“Read about social change. Read about social justice,” Johnson Rice said. “Books and reading are fundamental. This whole era that we have now of books that are banned – mh mh, that doesn’t work for me.”

The audience applauded this statement.

“Don’t be discouraged, don’t be disillusioned by what you see – it’s rough out there,” Johnson Rice said. “But the only way of making those changes is for you to have a voice.”

Advocacy is something Johnson Rice said is woven into her everyday existence. Be it advocating for Black business, women in business, education or accessibility, she said that advocacy is about using one’s voice as well as one’s vote. In closing, Johnson Rice said:

“If there’s one thing you leave here today with, please don’t sit on your hands.”

About Bonnie Lord 40 Articles
Bonnie Lord is a sophomore from Alma, Michigan and is an environmental science major at Albion College. She investigates questions of infrastructure, water quality and the changing relationship the community of Albion navigates with the environment. She enjoys bird watching, reading, and dismantling the patriarchy. Contact Bonnie via email at BFL10@albion.edu

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