Speaking for Those Without a Voice

Dickinson kicks off Black History Month with events commemorating MLK

Dickinson kicks off Black History Month.

On Feb. 10, (from left) Antonio Marrero ’13, Andrew Dietz ’15 and Christina Mullen ’12 will share their perspectives on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. They will be joined by fellow contestants Brett Lerner ’12 and Frank Williams ’15 (not pictured).

by MaryAlice Bitts Jackson
February 8, 2012

[On Feb. 10, (from left) Antonio Marrero ’13, Andrew Dietz ’15 and Christina Mullen ’12 will share their perspectives on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. They will be joined by fellow contestants Brett Lerner ’12 and Frank Williams ’15 (not pictured).]

Vernon Carraway was a gifted athlete, sailing on the coattails of an athletics scholarship at Slippery Rock University. He also was functionally illiterate, having reserved the sum of his passion and energy for the game. Then his psychology professor offered a challenge—to learn to read by studying the works of Martin Luther King Jr.

It was 1969, a year after King’s assassination, and it would take several years of daily tutoring for Carraway to reach his goal. But as he pored over King’s texts, the words rang as electric and true to Carraway as they had when he’d first heard King deliver them, six years before.

Today, Carraway is a noted King scholar and interpreter with a Ph.D. in workforce education & development from Pennsylvania State University, where he works as a counselor. On Feb. 10, he will visit Dickinson to take part in a daylong program, MLK and the Millennial Generation.

Sparking discussions 

Presented by the Office of Diversity Initiatives’ second-annual MLK Institute, the program kicks off Black History Month while commemorating King. Three thought-provoking events are slated for the day:

  • Panel discussion (12:30 p.m., Stern Center, Great Room)
  • MLK speech contest (4 p.m., Weiss 235)
  • An Evening With Dr. King (7 p.m., Mathers Theatre).

The events allow students to glimpse the world their parents or grandparents inhabited, says Norm Jones, dean of diversity and student development. “The [Civil Rights movement] is less visible today, because we are a fluid kind of society, and the way we go about the work looks different,” he says. “So our opportunity is to challenge students to grapple with what the world must have been like at that time.”

The programs also examine the shape of the movement today, adds Paula Lima-Jones, director of diversity initiatives and founder of the MLK Institute. “One of the things that’s particularly important for this generation, on the whole, is that while Millennials embrace diversity, they’ve grown up with the message that the work is done,” she explains. “Through [these programs], we ask students, ‘Has MLK’s dream been realized? Do we still have work to be done?’ ”

An evening with King 

Carraway will tackle those questions when he shares King’s historic writings and speeches in a performance titled An Evening With Dr. King. He will pepper the program with personal anecdotes—including his memory of hitch-hiking to Maryland with friends, as a high-schooler, to see King deliver his historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963. He also will share his encounters with the leaders who shaped his career: His psychology professor (“She was a small person—about 110 pounds—but she had the heart of a lion,”); poet/author/activist Langston Hughes; Benjamin O. Davis, the first African-American Air Force general; and King mentor Benjamin Mays. “They showed me, by example, that I could achieve anything, if I gave it my all,” he says.

Carraway will be part of the midday panel discussion addressing the impact of King’s life and work on society. Mara Donaldson, professor of religion; Brenda Bretz, associate provost for curriculum; and Leonard Brown, dean of students and associate vice president for student development, will join the panel, which will be moderated by Joyce Bylander, special assistant to the president for institutional and diversity initiatives.

Millennial perspectives 

Andrew Dietz ’15, Brett Lerner ’12, Antonio Marrero ’13, Christina Mullen ’12 and Frank Williams ’15—all finalists in an essay competition—will enter the daylong discussion when they vie for cash prizes during the MLK Institute speech contest. Topics include  the evolution of dialogue about King and responses King might have had to current issues, including the Occupy culture, international race relations and LGBTQ equality.

Marrero, a former Marine and community-college transfer student in his first semester at Dickinson, will speak about leadership for a new generation born decades after King set the Civil Rights movement afire. Dietz, a double major in international business & management and economics, will comb through King’s letters and other writings and discover cross-generational parallels.

Mullen, an Africana-studies major, will discuss the obligations born of privilege. “I’ve been very privileged in my own life,” she says. “I’ve been thinking about how I can use my voice to speak for those who don’t have a voice.”

Published August 2, 2013