Leaving a legacy: Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrated at Bemidji State
Despite no classes, BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom was a fair bit livelier than the rest of campus as around 100 people attended a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration event on Monday.
BEMIDJI — While there were no classes on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Bemidji State's Beaux Arts Ballroom was a fair bit livelier than the rest of campus as around 100 students, faculty and community members gathered to reminisce and reflect on the legacy of the pioneering civil rights leader on Monday.
Hosted by the Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion , a celebratory event aimed to provide opportunities for attendees to reflect on the struggles of the Black community, appreciate the progress that’s been made with regards to civil rights and understand the work that remains to be done, a release said.
Part of addressing this mission involved bringing in keynote speaker Dante King, who led the attendees through discussion and activities relating to several aspects of anti-Blackness, white supremacy and racism.
A native of San Francisco, King has worked more than 15 years as a human resource management professional with a focus on implementing anti-racist practices, organizational development and change, his website states.
He currently serves as a guest faculty member at the University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine along with being a historian, motivational speaker and coach.
King is also a published author with his newest book, “The 400-Year Holocaust: White America’s Legal, Psychopathic, and Sociopathic Black Genocide — and the Revolt Against Critical Race Theory,” informing much of Monday’s discussion.
One particular theme of King’s speech was educational systems and versions of history that are taught in schools today.
“We have a school system that’s based upon the psychology of white children and people. If we’re trying to educate our children in that system, they are bound to fail,” King said during his speech. “The very structure of the educational system itself is based upon a white model and therefore has a built-in failure mechanism for us one way or the other.
“We learn what is practical and beneficial for white people who control our historical orientations and everything that we register as knowledge, as academia, as intelligence.”
King garnered audience participation by asking attendees several questions and a show of hands throughout the event along with activities that required attendees to move around and mingle.
More information on King can be found at www.danteking.com.
Black Student Union
When attendees weren’t out of their seats, several other speakers took their turns at the podium including BSU students Maalik Knox and Michael Bailey, who serve as president and vice president of the Black Student Union respectively.
According to BSU’s website, the Black Student Union was founded in 2017 to provide a safe and welcoming environment for students of color. The club aims to celebrate Black culture, provide a social network for Black students and provide volunteer opportunities throughout the community.
Notably, Black Student Union hosted a Social Injustice demonstration in June 2020 following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, which gave rise to protests across the country. They have also expressed support for the family of Daunte Wright, a man who was fatally shot by police in April 2021.
Looking ahead to the future, Bailey spoke about his hopes to further establish the club in the community and remain active beyond moments of violence or outrage.
“We’re trying to establish that sustainable culture to where we have an everlasting impact on the community,” Bailey said. “We want to answer the questions of what the community wants to see from us … and hopefully bring that to light and make it a reality.”
Knox detailed plans to host bigger events and host more guest speakers — like King — to continue the club’s impact after he graduates.
“Going into the future, we are planning to have Black Student Union be well-known at Bemidji State,” Knox said, “to keep building and establish an organization that will go on to hold the legacy that we’re trying to build right now.”
Setting a challenge
BSU and Northwest Technical College President John Hoffman offered his own remarks regarding the function of education in the context of Martin Luther King Jr. Day: to teach people to think intensively and critically.
“To think intensively and to think critically is not comfortable. It forces us to consider some of the dark realities of our history and the dark realities of our present,” Hoffman said. “It’s not sanitized work that was the work of Dr. King.”
He credited BSU’s cornerstone values as the advancement of holistic student learning and success, along with diversity, equity and inclusion. He added that the value of a student’s education is experienced beyond graduation, and only one part of that value is starting a career.
“The value has more to do with preparing every one of our students to be able to engage the world to interrupt oppression, to advance social justice through their lives, in their work, in their communities, in their families and everywhere that they go,” Hoffman left off.
Prior to the end of the event, a jazz combo performed several pieces including “Freedom Jazz Dance” by Eddie Harris, “Milestones” by Miles Davis, “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson, “Now’s the Time” by Charlie Parker and "Cotton Tail" by Duke Ellington while attendees enjoyed a meal.
“Jazz is an expression of an oppressed community with rich culture and deep struggle just trying to find a way to elevate their people and share their experiences,” BSU student Shyria Pearson said while introducing the jazz combo. “Every note played represents the strength it took to survive for a better tomorrow.”
Director of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action Nicholas Taylor offered closing remarks along with Emelie Rivera, who was named BSU and NTC’s inaugural director of civil rights and restorative justice in November 2022.
“We must continue our work in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and pursue a shared dream of racial justice and freedom for all,” Taylor said. “The dream is to facilitate a better world for future generations and that starts right here and right now.”
Rivera set a challenge for attendees during her closing remarks.
“We can not allow moments of great violence and trauma to be the only times that we stand up for equity. We need to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Rivera said. “I just want to challenge you to go out and do your best to make a change.”
More information on upcoming events and initiatives can be found at bemidjistate.edu/services/cdei.