Concordia College hosts keynote speakers for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Concordia College honored Martin Luther King Jr. Day by inviting speakers to talk to the student body about social justice and to celebrate King’s legacy.

Speaking over Zoom, the guests included Payton Head, an activist and community leader and Derecka Purnell, a human rights lawyer and author.

Head kicked off the day’s events with a speech detailing his personal experience encountering racism at the University of Missouri, as well as his efforts to enact change. Head was the student body president at the University of Missouri when Michael Brown was killed in 2014. This sparked protests in Ferguson, Missouri. 

Head shared not only his struggles, but also his inspirations and the ways he believed others could enact change. A big focus of Head’s speech was telling the audience that they have the ability and the privilege to create change with their support, and they should use it.

Sophomore Paige Naughton said he sent a clear message: “acknowledge your privilege and do good with it.”

Naughton said Head was her favorite speaker of the day and that he did a great job of not trying to shift blame onto anyone, rather, he showed people that they can all make a difference with their actions.

Purnell was the second keynote speaker of the day and talked to students about the different ways King’s activism is viewed in society, the importance of having strong leaders to look up to and the need for radical change.

Grace Halvorson, a first-year student, said she took a lot away from Purnell’s speech. 

A standout moment from Purnell’s session came during the question and answer period. In response to a question about how to have conversations with people who are either wary of change or find it dangerous, Purnell said, if the person is open to conversation, the best way is to acknowledge their fears and try and figure out where they are coming from. Then people can begin to discuss the greater issues at hand.

Purnell said we must intentionally get to the root of institutional, systemic injustices to create radical change. Seeing Purnell highlight these issues and encourage change, both small and radical, helps as people “work to become responsibly engaged in the world,” said Halvorson.

James Postema, Chair of the English Department, echoed this sentiment and encouraged students to engage with the speakers on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Postema said “MLK Day isn’t a day off, it’s a day on.” While attending the speakers was optional unless specified by a professor, Postema was one of many professors who believed students would benefit from participating in the events.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day display in the atrium. | Lauren Melton

Naughton acknowledged that most students do not go to the sessions unless required to, preferring to have a day off from classes. However, she said it was good for the school to have these events and recommend students to go to them as there is much that can be learned from the experience, both as a person and school as a whole.

“As an overwhelmingly white community, it is crucial that Concordia takes time to have these conversations about how to prioritize systemic change,” said Halvorson. “Honoring MLK is not a one-day service event, it is the commitment to working towards a society grounded in equality and justice,” continued Halvorson.

Concordia has been working to increase diversity and cultural recognition on campus, with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events being one of such steps in the right direction. Giving students access to different perspectives shows progress towards change, even as more work needs to be done.

“Going to at least one speaker is good for students,” said Naughton. It allows them to address difficult topics of conversation and grow from them, learning how they can do better in the future.

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