Reclaiming the Radical

This is a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

MLK Jr. Symposium highlights youth activism and organization

by Michelle Simmons 

“1/1—In 1971 at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards, MLK posthumously won the Best Spoken Word Recording award for ‘Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.’ ” So began 25 Days of MLK Jr., a Facebook countdown to Jan. 25, the opening day of Dickinson's annual MLK Jr. Symposium. (Because the college was closed on Jan. 25 due to Winter Storm Jonas, the opening was rescheduled to Jan. 26.)


By posting daily historical nuggets about King’s life and legacy—most of them emphasizing his activism—the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity (PSC) is using the month of January to help people make connections between King’s radical roots and the activism of today.


Another nugget from the PSC’s Facebook page: “In a letter to his then future wife Coretta, King [writes], ‘So today capitalism has outlived its usefulness. It has brought about a system that takes necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes.’ Many believe that King did not develop more radical views until later in his life, but his letters reveal that he had these views quite early on.”


The posts—and King’s views—are in line with the theme of this year’s MLK Jr. Symposium, Radical Youth: Organizing for Rights and Revolution, which takes place Jan. 26-28. The symposium is organized by the PSC and co-sponsored by the departments of history, Africana studies and American studies; and the Center for Service, Spirituality and Social Justice.


According to Vincent Stephens, director of the PSC, the Radical Youth theme was inspired by the role of young people in organizing contemporary social justice movements like Black Lives Matter, the DREAMers and national campus activism.


Last October, members of the American studies department, the PSC and the Women’s & Gender Resource Center, in collaboration with co-sponsors, took 45 students to New York City to view two exhibits on the Puerto Rican activist group the Young Lords.

“The students connected the Lords’ activism with contemporary issues, and the theme was born,” says Stephens, adding that Patricia Hill Collins’s Clarke Forum lecture last semester on the importance of groups of people, not just individuals, in shaping movements was also an important catalyst.


MLK Jr. Symposium Events

Events are as follows:


Jan. 26: Radical Youth art exhibit and opening reception, 7:30-9 p.m., Allison Hall. The exhibit will be open 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Jan. 26-28.

Jan. 26: Who, What, When, Where, and Why: Young Lords reading and discussion group, 5:30-7 p.m., Stern Center, Room 102.

Jan. 27: The Legacy of the Young Lords: A Conversation, moderated by Jerry Philogene, associate professor of American studies, 7-9 p.m., Denny 317. Speakers include:


  • Iris Morales, community activist, filmmaker (¡Palante Siempre Palante!: The Young Lords) and director of the Manhattan Neighborhood Networks El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center;
  • Denise Oliver-Velez, a former Black Panther and Young Lord and on the faculty of the women’s, gender & sexuality studies department at the State University of New York, New Paltz;
  • and Darrel Wanzer-Serrano, assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies, communication studies, University of Iowa.


Jan. 28: Screening of ¡Palante Siempre Palante!: The Young Lords, followed by a Q&A session with Iris Morales, 7-8:30 p.m., Althouse 106.


In addition to Stephens and Philogene, the MLK Jr. Symposium planning group includes: Erica Gordon, director of the Office of LGBTQ Services; Crystal Moten, assistant professor of history; Erik Vasquez, visiting assistant professor of American studies; and students Janel Pineda ’18 and Lucy Richman ’17. All events are free and open to members of the Dickinson community.


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Published January 18, 2016