Throughout the past year, a surge of activism for Black Lives Matter has struck America due to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others by police officers. The tragedies sparked nationwide debates over the limits of police authority and inequalities of the criminal justice system. With new dedication and attention from many, this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day was celebrated throughout the entire week and prompted much discussion throughout the community. The week of Jan. 18-22 involved a poetry slam and involvement from programs such as the Campus Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and Community Service Learning (CSL). A handful of faculty members came together on Jan. 19 for a Day of Dialogue, titled “The Radical Side of MLK” to remember Dr. King. The event explored the concept of “anti-racism” and how it applies to the university.
The University of Redlands came out in November 2020 with an anti-racist statement, which was a large starting point for this Day of Dialogue. This conference was held for five hours and featured four panelists. The discussion was mediated by Brandi Viegh, and had panelists Kimiya Sohrab Maghzi, PhD, Assistant Professor & EDSP Program Coordinator, School of Education; Dr. Mousumi De, Assistant Professor, School of Education; Chanel Parrish, and Kevin Velez, who are pursuing M.A degrees in Higher Education, Student Affairs ‘21.
“The Radical Side of MLK” began with Dr. Jose Lalas who gave the introduction. He works with the Redlands Center of Educational Justice with the School of Education, and mentioned some of the philosophies of Dr. King, along with backstory on where his beliefs stem.
“When we call Martin Luther King a radical, what does that mean? The word radical comes from the word ‘radix’ in latin, meaning roots,” Lalas said. “In my reading of his work, I discovered that all of his writings evolved around the root process of social ills to society. [Specifically, Dr. King focused on] materialism, militarism, racism, and poverty. To me, that makes MLK radical.”
Dr. Mario C. Martinez, the Dean of the School of Education and Center of Educational Justice, followed up on this by mentioning the books of The Radical King by MLK and Cornel West, and Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff. Dr. Martinez spoke about how Team Human claims that people seek belonging and autonomy at the same time. Autonomy is associated with the individual, but belonging involves others.
“When seeking these goals, there is sometimes conflict because of our tendency to focus on ourselves. Rushkoff’s solution is that only through service to others, history has proven that we are able to balance autonomy with belonging.” His advice: find the others.
Martinez went on to address how Rushkoff’s thesis relates to MLK by saying that King made it clear we need to selflessly serve others. Very tied to his Christianity, to love God and love others. MLK reinforces Rushkoff’s idea of finding others to serve. Inspired by Dr. King, this is something the Redlands School of Education strives to embody through the Center of Educational Justice.
The Day of Dialogue proved to not only highlight the ideals of MLK, but to beckon a larger discussion to include those of marginalized communities, said Chanel Parrish, one of the panelists. The first hour consisted of a discussion on the anti-racist policies of the university, and how faculty can take action by promoting conversation, ensuring comfortable spaces for BIPOC students and faculty, and by sharing a more diverse selection of readings in appropriate classes. Many of these ideas come from Parrish and Velez, two graduate students in the university’s school of higher education.
Dr. Maghzi made a statement about the importance of “keeping our hearts open to learn from one another,” describing this as an act of love. Dr. Mousumi De commented that confronting prejudice leads to tolerance.
“Love cannot happen overnight.” Nevertheless, we should aim to begin with tolerance that can later progress into love, according to Mousumi De.
All of the panelists agreed on the need to promote discussion and expand spaces that create a sense of belonging for Redlands community members of color. Dr. De mentioned the importance of having challenging conversations about hate in the classroom, in order to broaden perspectives. These discussions being in this setting are also important for those who are complacent, she said, as it will bring all perspectives together.
The celebration and remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. succeeded in bringing people together for conversation and thought. The ideas exchanged are likely to have an impact on how the University of Redlands proceeds with future anti-racist initiatives.
Photo by Rowland Scherman. Taken Aug. 28, 1963 in Washington D.C.