Yohuru Williams

Yohuru R. Williams talks MLK Jr. and Black Lives Matter Movement during the Jan. 18 brunch

Photographer: Emily Matthews

MLK silent march

More than 100 silent marchers head toward Baker University Center on Jan. 18

Photographer: Ben Siegel

tables mlk brunch

The MLK Jr. Brunch attracted another full house in the Baker University Center Ballroom on Jan. 18

Photographer: Emily Matthews

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MLK Jr. brunch speaker connects MLK Jr. to Black Lives Matter movement

Silent March kicks off MLK Jr. holiday events

More than 250 people gathered in the Baker University Center Ballroom on Monday, Jan. 18, to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the annual Ohio University MLK Jr. Celebratory Brunch.

This year's brunch featured inspiring talks by President Roderick J. McDavis and keynote speaker Yohuru Williams, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of history at Fairfield University. Other distinguished speakers included City of Athens Mayor Steve Patterson and Jeanne Wilson, senior Appalachian regional representative with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

President McDavis delivered a heartfelt message about the Black Lives Matter Movement and race relations during his talk.

"Today we gather to reflect on the life of a man who serves as a symbol for a movement," President McDavis said. "As I walked shoulder to shoulder with some of you this morning, I could feel the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He's called on us to do more to carry his legacy forward."

President McDavis commented on the importance of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

"The intent of the Black Lives Matter Movement is to raise awareness to the fact that some people still believe that black lives do not matter," President McDavis said. "If King were alive today, he would not be afraid to applaud the movement. Perhaps he would remind us that having a black president does not mean we are all on equal footing when situations like Ferguson still occur."

President McDavis ended his speech by talking about the future of Ohio University when it comes to diversity. He reminded everyone that alumnus John Newton Templeton became the fourth African-American graduate in the United States in 1828, which made the University a leader in diversity and access.

"This university has a rich history of extending itself to people who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to get a college degree," President McDavis said. "That is something for us to celebrate and be proud of. Ohio University has consistently led the nation when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
That is our foundation, that is who we are and that is who we will be."

During his talk, Williams examined the life and legacy of Dr. King in the context of the Black Lives Matter Movement. He brought a strong message of how far America still has to go in race relations to satisfy King's expectations.

"We've taken a man and incarcerated his message and boiled it down to a couple of phrases from some key speeches, which don't encapsulate the life of a man who was a man of action and not a man of words," Williams said. "If you study his life, it's not what he said, it's what he did. It's not what we say we're going to do, it's what we do in those moments when our values are questioned."

Williams explained why the Black Lives Matter Movement is so important in America.

"Those that are dying in large numbers are people of color in this country," Williams said. "So if all lives matter, we should demonstrate that by flocking to those communities where those lives are in the greatest danger and in jeopardy, and in this country those are communities of color."

He also addressed the fallacy that King is the only face of the Civil Rights Movement, despite the fact that it existed before and after his involvement.

"We have to get out of this 1965 to 1968 paradigm of where the Civil Rights Movement is the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King," Williams said. "He would have told you himself that, 'this movement isn't about me. I'm just a symbol of what's happening to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. I'm a spokesperson for those who are fed up with injustice. I'm somebody who symbolizes our desire to be a more perfect union, to make the promises of the Declaration of Independence real, to make our democracy live up to its promise, its integrity, that's what I am and nothing more.'"

Williams said despite the fact that Barack Obama is president, it does not mean America has fulfilled King's dream.

"The Civil Rights Movement was not just about electing an African-American president," Williams said. "Dr. King didn't dream about electing a black president. He dreamed about economic, political and social justice in this country."

Williams took time to praise President McDavis and the Athens community for being committed to diversity and equality.

"I'm happy to be here because your president and this community are not standing on the sidelines of justice, because it requires all of us to get in and stay in the struggle," Williams said. "It ain't easy, please excuse my language. It doesn't mean it's going to be fun. You don't get awards and a day named after you because it's fun. It's difficult work."

Williams' final message to the audience was simple and clear.

"Stand up for justice, fight for what's right. Let Ohio University become the incubator for social justice in the 21st century," Williams said.

Monday's brunch was immediately preceded by the annual Silent March from Galbreath Chapel on College Green to the fourth-floor entrance of Baker University Center. The march is held in honor of the brave individuals who risked their lives to march for equality in America during the Civil Rights Movement as portrayed in the 2014 hit movie, “Selma.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration events are ongoing. For a list of upcoming MLK Jr. Celebration events, visit http://www.ohio.edu/diversity/mlk/.