Last week, in honour of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the Faculty of Arts hosted a candlelight vigil and a panel discussion. The vigil, held outside the SUB by Chaplain Tim McFarland, allowed students, faculty, and community members to listen to the Chaplain’s words honouring the spirit and memory of King.
The panel discussion aimed to address the importance of service in society today, and evoked much discussion about many other dynamic aspects of the mixture of activism, academia, community, and the societal woes that such actions work to address. To begin the panel portion of the evening, Dr. Claudine Bonner of the Sociology Department reminded us of King’s activism, emphasizing that his actions and involvement are not as far removed from our own lifetime as we may believe them to be. Moderating the panel was graduate student Jessica Bundy, who posed many thought provoking questions and quotations to the panel. The Panel consisted of four individuals: Fourth-year sociology honours student Reed Power-Grimm, Third year English and Women and Gender Studies student Sawyer Carnegie, Ph.D Candidate and Faculty of School of Education student in the area of inclusive education and disability studies Cynthia Bruce, and professor in the History Department Dr. Michael Dennis.
The panel discussion, which lasted over an hour and a half, consisted of vibrant discussions and audience input. Although each panel member brought a unique approach and set of ideals to the questions posed, several common discourses emerged. One of these was the necessity for collective, inclusive action; activism that is not elitist, hierarchical, or exclusionary. It was stressed, as King preached outside of his traditional “I have a dream” legacy, that we need to move away from “selfish individualism” and instead encourage individuals from all backgrounds and with diverse life experiences to take up the issues that matter most to them, to break the silence, and to disrupt the existing ideologies. The idea of social media was discussed in regards to using these platforms as powerful tools for organizing groups of people, again back to the notion of collective action.
The concept of hope, both how individuals maintain hope in today’s society and its power, was an additional emerging theme. Discussion revolved around King’s capacity to use words to engage the masses, to raise hope, and how this was powerful enough to threaten power structures to make change. Hope can exist through pushing dialogue, through engaging in conversation in all realms of life, not just within the exclusionary confines of the university. Hope was articulated to exist in many ways. Hope in communication, in arguing, in speaking, thinking, and encouraging others to do the same; there is hope in solidarity.
Overall, the event was very successful and lead to some thought provoking questions and dialogue, leaving the imprint of King’s actions to be remembered, and to encourage continuing his legacy of engagement to target social inequalities.