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Hundreds attend AACC hosted tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King

By Katie McWilliams
On January 20, 2014

Hundreds of students and faculty filled the Student Union Theater to pay tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King, whose birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of January but falls on Jan. 15, was honored by speakers and musical performances hosted by the African American Cultural Center and sponsored by many other campus organizations such as Residential Life, the Asian American Cultural Center and the Rainbow Center. In conjunction with the event, Community Outreach hosted a day of service where students could give back to their communities to honor the mission and spirit of King.
The event was started by an address by African American Cultural Center director Willena Price. In her opening remarks Price noted that the theme of the evening was, "What happens when change happens." The theme took an analytical approach to looking at change in a country that is constantly changing. Price asked the attendees to think about who can accomplish change, what methods are affective and questioned how we remember those, like King, who made significant changes in our social fabric.
"Was his death the end of change?" Price asked.
Price then screened a video by 2nd-semester student Kathryn Bailey that advocated for UConn students to realize that positive change can be accomplished in small steps.
"UConn students can change the world," Bailey said in her video presentation.
UConn President Herbst spoke next not as an administrator, but as a historian. Herbst spoke about how Connecticut played small role in Dr. King's life and Civil Rights movement for when he was 15 years old he worked on a farm in Simsbury, just 37 miles from campus.
"He wrote to his parents about traveling to Hartford where he ate meals, and went to movies with people of all races," Herbst said.
Remembering Connecticut's role in King's life, President Herbst was quick to say that Dr. King would look at UConn as a place where positive change is still needed. Herbst noted that Dr. King would see a need for more diversity on campus and that students should remember his memory by thinking about making change.
"Dr. King does not belong to yesterday. He belongs to today and he belongs to tomorrow," Herbst said.
Herbst then introduced Congressman Joe Courtney, representative for Connecticut's Second District. Courtney spoke about the importance of social work and social change in a nation struggling with problems such as poverty and healthcare accessibility.
"I do suspect if he was alive today he would be very focused on changes happening today," Courtney said.
While the theme of the event was looking at how change happens Courtney urged the audience to remember what happens when change doesn't happen, citing the gridlock in Washington as a setback for progress.
"Frankly right now in Washington the grid lock is holding back our country," Courtney said.
After Courtney's address, Price welcomed the Hartford High School Choir to the stage for a performance of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday." The selection proved somber and uplifting in a fitting tribute for a mourned leader. Members of the UConn Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir also performed a selection of the repertoire.
After the musical interlude, UConn student David Best introduced keynote speaker and UConn professor William Cobb.
A former student of Cobb, Best introduced him as eye opening.
"It challenged me to rethink the narrative of African American history. He taught me that there is no difference now between African American history and American history," Best said.
Cobb's address focused on looking at Martin Luther King's legacy in more unconventional ways. While he addressed Civil Rights, Cobb also looked at gun violence.
"When a person who brings peace's life is ended so violently we questions who we are," Cobb said.
Cobb explained that after the assassination of Robert Kennedy, John F. Kennedy and Dr. King, the way Americans accessed firearms drastically changed to tighter controls. Cobb also examined how violence as part of our political system has seemingly abated in the years after Dr. King's murder. However, Cobb also pointed out that a central issue in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s has still not disappeared. Cobb references the murders of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride as recent example when violence was employed on the basis that the perpetrators believed that African Americans had no good business being in their neighborhood.
"Where people can be and where people can live is a central conflict in American society," Cobb said.
Cobb ended his speech on an optimistic note saying that history will favor those who seek positive change.
"What I think that we can take from this is that history is on the side of people who are idealistic," Cobb said. "The levers of justice are in our hands."

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