On Wednesday, Jan. 19 the 2022 Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Celebration brought SVSU students and faculty together with community members to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy.
The event, held virtually this year, also provided the opportunity to recognize the winners of the MLK Regional Scholarships and the 8th Annual Drum Major Awards.
The MLK Regional scholarship is presented annually to students who embrace the teachings of Dr. King and aim to achieve his vision. This year, 15 high school seniors from Bay, Midland and Saginaw counties received the award.
The Annual Drum Major Award is presented to community members who are known for their good deeds and helping others. Honored with the award this year were Darold Newton of Bay County, Erin Patrice Walker of Midland County and Waheed Akbar, M.D. of Saginaw County.
This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Condoleezza Rice. Rice most notably served as Secretary of State under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009.
SVSU associate vice president and chief diversity officer for diversity, equity and inclusion Dr. Mamie T. Thorns interviewed Rice in a fireside chat style discussion.
“It truly was an honor to have had the privilege to interview Dr. Rice for such a time as this,” Thorns said. “The many years that we patiently waited to have her as our guest speaker for our MLK celebration has culminated into one of the greatest opportunities our university has ever experienced.”
For Rice, the celebration of Dr. King is very important on a personal level.
“I’m very honored to be involved in a conversation about the legacy of Dr. King because, of course, growing up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, he wasn’t just a historical figure out of the history books. He was someone who changed the nature of our lives in Birmingham,” Rice said.
Rice learned many lessons growing up in segregated Birmingham, with many words of wisdom coming from her parents.
“They said there are no victims, the minute you start to think of yourself as a victim, you’ve given control of your life to someone else,” she said. “You can always control your response to your circumstances even if you can’t control your circumstances. Those lessons really stayed with me as I grew up, not to let others define who I was or what I was capable of doing.”
Rice’s ambitious spirit also led her down many different potential career paths. Starting out as a piano performance major in college, Rice ultimately ended up pursuing international politics, eventually leading her to her future career.
Thorns found this part of the lecture from Rice to be the most surprising to her.
“Changing from music to international relations was not what one would expect,” Thorns said. “It took a great deal of courage for her to make such a life altering decision. She demonstrates that when you follow your passion, you can be successful. Stay focus so your passion is so important.”
Things have changed from when Rice was growing up in the segregated south, but there are still ways in which people are discriminated against today. Rice elaborated on this when speaking about the ways in which immigrants are often judged.
“These are people who have a kind of drive and ambition to make life better, so when they get here, they bring that drive and that ambition to us as a country,” Rice said. “It’s not surprising that so many start-ups in our society, in our country are founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. I don’t like the way we are talking about immigrants these days. I know that it’s important to have borders, it’s important to have laws, but could we just once say that immigrants enrich our society, they don’t detract from it, and they do make us more competitive in the global environment.”
While there is still work to be done in bridging the gaps between the various demographics in this country, Rice said the key is to focus on the end goal of making diversity about experience and not about race.
“Try to make diversity not about difference, try to make diversity about different experiences, different ways of seeing things, but about coming to something that we want to do in common,” she said.
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