Students Celebrate Civil Rights Figure

SUNY New Paltz students come together annually to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a speaker, revolutionary and as a man.

Keepin’ It R.E.A.L (Reclaiming Equality and Liberation), this year’s annual forum in Dr. King‘s honor held on Monday, Feb. 7, invited students to celebrate the memory and legacy of the civil rights figure, Jada Young, third-year Black Studies and international relations major said.

The goal of the forum was to recognize Dr. King’s influence as a revolutionary beyond his more mainstream image and to look at his civil and humanitarian messages critically and analytically, Young said. She also said that she hoped conversations started by the event would inspire students to adopt Dr. King’s spiritual energy and promote future action.

“Dr. King was also very much about fighting for the rights of the oppressed and challenging the systems of oppression, but we too often pigeon hole him into the image of the simple pacifist,” Young said. “He was much more than that.”

Young said Dr. King’s identity has been sanitized by the national holiday that honors him, but further study of the man can help the public see his multiple complexities.

Petra Vega, a third-year Women’s Studies major, attended the event and said she gained a new appreciation for Dr. King. She said that while most people recall the memorable speeches, there’s little known about him beyond that.

“Dr. King was more complex than some people give him credit for,” Vega said.

Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Morgan State University Dr. Jared Ball was the keynote speaker. He gave a presentation about the lesser known image of Dr. King. A writer and commentator at Black Agenda Report and the creator of FreeMix Radio, Ball was asked to speak by Young and third-year Black Studies and sociology major Jonathan Espinosa, both familiar with his writing and some of his past presentations on Dr. King.

Ball said the image of Dr. King was being re-assassinated through the media’s sanitizing tactics. He said his goal was to convey the parts of Dr. King’s politics that have been suppressed and ignored by mainstream media, in order to create the more-circulated pacifist image of the civil rights figure.

“King is the most known and least understood figure in human history second maybe only to the historical Jesus Christ,” Ball said. “His image, now in control of his own political enemies, continues to be weaponized against us as a means of blunting radical critiques of the past and present, but more so to prevent us from engaging in the kind of future movement-building for which King worked and was killed.”

The event also reintroduced an essay contest for students to enter with their thoughts on the criminal justice system’s effect on African men.

The forum also featured a performance by Urban Lyrics and an original play about Dr. King by New Day Ensemble.