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'Reflecting on the legacy': Bemidji State celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

A commitment to justice, famous quotes, music and even some breakfast all had a place at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event held virtually and in person at Bemidji State’s Beaux Arts Ballroom on Monday.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
BSU Professor Dwight Jilek leads the Bemidji Choir in the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” accompanied on piano by Eric Gustafson, to kick off a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — A commitment to justice, famous quotes, music and even some breakfast all had a place at Bemidji State's Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday.

Held both virtually over Zoom and in person in the Beaux Arts Ballroom, the event was hosted by the college's Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion .

The Bemidji Choir kicked things off with the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” conducted by BSU Professor Dwight Jilek and accompanied on piano by Eric Gustafson.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ye “Solar” Hong welcomes attendees ahead of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Keynote speakers then took up the bulk of the morning celebration, allowing for much reflection on King’s legacy, current events, hopes for the future and ways to become civically engaged.

“As you are reflecting on the legacy of Dr. King, think about how you can show yourselves and come into your own light and come into your own purpose,” said Andriel Dees, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion for Minnesota State system .

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
Andriel Dees, vice chancellor for equity and inclusion for the Minnesota State system of colleges speaks over Zoom during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Dees emphasized the power of personal strengths and challenges and harnessing those to define your purpose for the greater good.

After detailing the lives of her parents and grandparents, Dees detailed the importance of knowing your own history and the shoulders on which you stand when pursuing justice in any form.

“These are defining moments for my parents, for myself, for my family,” Dees continued. “It’s important to know the strengths and the challenges that all of us have gone through in order to place perspective in today’s struggles and triumphs.”

Equity in education

Henry Morris, vice president of diversity and inclusion for Minnesota State University-Mankato, aimed to make attendees a little bit uncomfortable during his virtual speech.

“Part of my goal is to make sure we’re doing all we can to make a difference,” Morris said. “Are we accepting that moment in time when we are called upon to make a difference? Are we?”

Morris challenged attendees to find moments where they could be part of a solution in spite of leaving their comfort zones and even challenged the Minnesota State system to reconsider some of their future goals.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
In partnership with the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Bemidji State and Northwest Technical College hosted a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

In reference to Equity 2030 — a Minnesota State system-wide goal of closing educational equity gaps across race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location by the year 2030 — Morris thought 2030 was too far out into the future.

“I think 2030 is too late. That’s eight years from today and if we know about a problem and we don’t fix a problem, that’s malpractice on our part as educators,” Morris said. “Our goal should be no educational gaps every year.”

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BSU and NTC President Faith Hensrud also spoke to the equity gap, “we support our students and strive to remove the equity gap. It’s true that 2030 is too late and we must work harder to support our diverse students every day.”

Morris went on to address six-year average graduation rates as opposed to four-year timelines and urged changes to general education requirements so that four-year graduation would be more feasible for a majority of college students.

In doing so, Morris hopes to eliminate not just racial gaps, but also academic, financial and environmental reasons that many students drop out of school.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
Attendees listen as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ye “Solar” Hong reads a land acknowledgment ahead of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Other speakers of the morning included NTC Dean of Nursing Michele Brielmaier and BSU Student Senate members Kendra Draeger of Waseca and Caleb Travis of Pine River.

Chelsea Rak, social and emotional learning specialist at Peacemaker Resources , performed two songs including a Latin American lullaby “Duerme Negrito” and “Down By The Riverside.”

Ahead of both pieces, Rak encouraged attendees to focus on love rather than hate.

“Remembering that hate wears down on us, that’s ultimately what affects our ability to persist in this fight,” Rak said. “For me, ‘Down By The Riverside’ is a message to leave that hate, to leave that contempt.”

Fueling for the future

Following the songs complete with an audience sing-along, BSU and NTC Campus Diversity Officer Steven Parker provided closing remarks.

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"Figure out those seminal points throughout the year that will fuel you for your fight in social and racial justice, anti-racism, deconstructing and reconstructing systems that oppress humans,” Parker said.

He pointed to other Black leaders such as Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and many others, some of whom lost their lives advocating for inclusivity. Quoting Malcolm X, Parker added, “we can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we won’t go.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Bemidji State University
BSU Professor Dwight Jilek leads the Bemidji Choir in the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” accompanied on piano by Eric Gustafson, to kick off a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Monday, Jan. 17, 2022, in BSU’s Beaux Arts Ballroom.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Expanding on the numerous stories presented throughout the morning, Parker concluded, “This is powerful. And to me, this is like going to the gas station and fueling up. I’m on ‘E’ and I need just a little bit more fuel. The stories and the data are part of the fuel to that fire.”

An open conversation period and virtual readings of King’s speeches from Project for Change and Our Revolution followed the main event.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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