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MLK Commemoration marks a year of action

Rory Mather | Contributing Reporter

At the 29th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration, a large audience gathered in Graham Chapel to hear various speakers and performers reflect on King’s lessons and legacy.

In his opening remarks, Chancellor Mark Wrighton addressed four steps that Washington University is taking as part of a proactive stance to support the local community through civic engagement, entrepreneurship, education and overcoming health disparities.

Vice Provost Holden Thorp congratulates keynote speaker Jason Purnell, assistant professor at the Brown School, after his talk.Mary Richardson | Student Life

Vice Provost Holden Thorp congratulates keynote speaker Jason Purnell, assistant professor at the Brown School, after his talk.

Following Wrighton, keynote speaker and Assistant Professor of Social Work Jason Q. Purnell took the stage and sought to direct the audience away from King’s more famous speeches and towards the different events in King’s life that gave rise to three essential truths.

“The first virtue can be found when King was at his most vulnerable,” Purnell said. “Twenty-seven-year-old King wanted to quit. He sat down and prayed for strength. Then he heard his inner voice say, ‘Stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for truth.’”

The second virtue, Purnell said, is hope.

“Without hope, we have little reason to move on,” Purnell said. “There is too little talk of the world we hope for and too much focus on the complaints of our current world.”

Purnell concluded with the third and final virtue, love.

“Love is what our moment calls for,” he said. “Love is the only thing that can solve our problems.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. essay winner and senior Kendall Maxwell gives a speech during the commemorative celebration.Mary Richardson | Student Life

Martin Luther King, Jr. essay winner and senior Kendall Maxwell gives a speech during the commemorative celebration.

Senior Kendall Maxwell, who won a student essay competition for the event, read from her essay about how society has a distorted memory of King. She emphasized that words alone are not enough to exhibit true change to our society, and she ended with a call to action from the audience.

“We must think deeply about MLK’s words, ‘This is the time for action,’” Maxwell said. “Each action is different, yet all display the same commitment to reimagine the world we live in… We need to step out of our comfort zones and try to find where our help is most needed.”

Freshman Chalaun Lomax, who attended the event, thought that Maxwell’s essay was the most prominent of the night.

“I really enjoyed what Maxwell said in her essay, and I think that it’s time to revitalize what MLK is trying to say and turn those words into action,” Lomax said.

To conclude the event, Black Anthology performed an adaptation of their future show “Woke,” followed by the presentation of two awards. Sylvester Brown Jr., a former columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, received the Rosa L. Parks Award for his work teaching young men and women sustainable business and entrepreneurial skills via the Sweet Potato Project, and Kiland Sampa received the Martin Luther King Jr. Youth Service Award for his volunteer work at the Ranken Jordan Pediatric Bridge Hospital.

Freshman Chase Latour wanted to attend the MLK Commemoration in order to support the day, the African-American community and the progress of race relations, she said.

“The most notable thing to me was seeing Black Anthology dance and how they talked about how tiring it is to see these events reoccurring, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like to go through that,” Latour said.

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