Kent State rises to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.


David Anderson, Founder and President of BridgeLeader Network, speaks at the at the 15th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in the Kent State Student Center Ballroom Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017.

McKenna Corson

The 15th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration kicked off today in the Student Center Ballroom, drawing in a mix ages and races to celebrate diversity and spread the need for love.

The event featured David Anderson, founder and president of the BridgeLeader Network, as the keynote speaker. Anderson has traveled around the world to promote racial, cultural and religious hope during this time of global unrest.

Shana Lee, director for special projects and initiatives within the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and one of the celebration’s organizers, said she was overjoyed with the successful turnout.

Lee said the celebration first started 15 years ago to bring the university and community together to celebrate diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as strengthen the strides made within those fields.

The event also featured speeches from Alfreda Brown, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Kent State President Beverly Warren. Both speakers brought up the social unrest surrounding Donald Trump’s election and how the community could come together to provide help.

“The world has witnessed one of the most divisive elections in the history of the United States,” Brown said. “There have been dreams shattered and dreams realized. No matter where you fall on this spectrum of emotion … I encourage each one of you to use your voice for healing and systematic change.”

The ballroom also echoed the word “rising” after Brown encouraged the engaged crowd to chant after she listed African-American involvement within Kent State over the past years.

“We are striving every day to be that version of unity that we all have hope that we can achieve,” Warren said. “May we play our symphony with passion and commitment, and the desire to be the doers of kindness, the conveners of respectful dialogue and the believers that we are at our best. When all of our voices blend into a beautiful harmony of diversity and inclusion, may we achieve that in our lifetime. Thank you for gathering today in a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also as a commitment that we will be better when we strive together, and we will rise.”

The Unity for Diversion Award and the 2017 Diversity Trailblazer Award were awarded, followed by a creative dance performance.

Anderson took to the stage and shared ways to bridge the gap between racial, religious and cultural divides.

“I’ve learned that comprehension begins with conversation,” Anderson said. “There’s an old African proverb that says, ‘From afar, I thought he was a monster. When he got closer, I thought he was an animal. When he got even closer, I realized he was a human being. But when we were face to face, I realized he was my brother.’ Distance demonizes you. But when you’re face to face, it’s hard to hate up close.”

Anderson also introduced his seven principles to be a “gracist,” which he defines as “extending positive favor to other people regarding of, and sometimes because of, their color, class or culture.”

He said he believes his seven principles of “gracism” can help unify the world. His principles are:

“I will lift you up, I will cover you, I will share with you, I will honor you, I will stand with you, I will consider you and I will celebrate you.

“When you listen to one another and love one another, and at least let one another talk, a beautiful magic begins to happen,” Anderson said. “I’ve watched this happen day in and day out in the work that I do.”

Junior integrated health studies major Bianca Tanksley said she came to the celebration to honor Martin Luther King Jr., especially because of the new era America is entering.

“It’s important because not a lot of people get this type of exposure on a day-to-day basis,” Tanksley said. “Some of the things the keynote speaker said were things that other people would never have thought of. It’s important to go back and think about what was fought for just to get rights and equity. The whole service was amazing. I’m going to definitely remember this celebration. I’ve learned so much.”

McKenna Corson is the diversity reporter, contact her at [email protected].