MRC Hosts MLK Event to Honor Life and Legacy
Issue   |   Wed, 02/01/2017 - 01:18

An event titled “Dr. MLK Jr. Symposium: Moving Toward Collective Liberation” brought together a panel of experts to speak on community, engagement and the role of masculinity in the current civil rights movement.

The talk was held in Johnson Chapel on Jan. 28 and was free and open to the public.

Bulaong Ramiz-Hall, director of the Multicultural Resource Center, introduced the four panelists — Bishop John Selders, Chris Crass, Caleb Stephens and Dylan Marron. Ramiz-Hall also introduced Professor of English, Black Studies and Film and Media Studies Marisa Parham, the panel’s moderator.

Marron, a comedian and actor, spoke on the impact that comedy can have on the audience.

“Comedy, and all entertainment, really [needs] to be a vessel to illuminate something for the audience, rather than just a vessel for the audience to escape reality,” Marron said. “This makes it important to ask what the purpose [is] behind every joke.”

“We’ve seen such great people use comedy, use entertainment, as a form to educate people, to illuminate people’s understanding of the world around them, just as much as we’ve seen comedy used as a weapon against minority communities, against marginalized communities,” Marron continued.

Selders spoke about his background as a bishop from St. Louis and how he was deeply influenced by the 2014 death of Michael Brown. He also discussed the need for quick responses in light of the political events of the past few weeks.

“We all have to respond ... now,” Selders said. “The pressure is on you to speak of the rapidness of how stuff is happening. Dr. King referred to the fierce urgency of ‘now,’ right? Well, that thing has now moved up even exponentially from there.”

Another topic of discussion was the significance of community in activists’ movements. Stephens commented on the importance of deferring to others within a community.

“Men — we have been a distraction for so long in these movements, and we have been the face of them, too — not because we deserve it … it’s been a facade,” Stephens said.

The panelists’ discussion was guided by written questions from the audience, who asked about a variety of topics that ranged from the rejection of political intellectualism and introspection to the importance of self-care.

One attendee’s question asked what it means to be an imperfect leader while advocating for social change, prompting the panelists to discuss accepting the inevitability of mistakes.

“That’s part of our responsibility in leadership, is once you do make that mess … don’t let it immobilize you, but be a part of cleaning it up,” said Selders.

Anna Makar-Limanov ’20, a student who attended the panel, said in an email interview that she was “glad that the MRC organized this and is committed to bringing in outside voices and perspectives to share their valuable experience with us.”

“I hope that [the] college continues to support events like this and I know the resource centers will continue providing us with resources to learn more and act out against oppression,” she continued.

Following the panel, a reception was held in the Multicultural Resource Center. Attendees were able to meet with the speakers and continue the discussion on topics covered in the panel.

Ramiz-Hall organized the event and reception and invited the four speakers. Regarding the selection of panelists, Ramiz-Hall noted that there were “a lot of different ways in which all the panelists have impacted [her] life” and that she “wanted to share that with the Amherst community.”

“I think community-building is so vitally important, not only for people’s understanding of one another, but to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves,” Ramiz-Hall said. “With the current political climate, so many of us are feeling lost and alone and afraid, and I think having a conversation that’s about liberation … allows a space to focus on the possibility of hope and joy and love.”

Having this space “shifts the narrative,” said Ramiz-Hall. “People often feel they don’t know what to do, they don’t know how they’re going to get through,” Ramiz-Hall added. “This gives us space to say… at least I’m not alone, and here are some people that I have to look to, to be in community with, to guide me, to get inspiration from.”