February 07, 2013
by Veronica Gockenbach '14
Members of the Knox College community gathered at the Winter Term Convocation to pay tribute to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose dedication to social and economic equality, nonviolence, and freedom inspired millions.
The January 21 convocation, an annual event, featured keynote speaker Konrad Hamilton, Knox associate professor and chair of history and American Studies. Hamilton delivered a speech titled, "Diversity and the Urgency of Now."
Other speakers were Knox President Teresa Amott; Dean Lawrence Breitborde; Professor Fred Hord, chair of Black Studies; and Magali Roy-Fequiere, associate professor and chair of Gender and Women's Studies. The convocation also included performances by the Knox College Choir and poetry readings by Knox junior Ajoura Renee Gwinn. (Photo at top: Ajoura Renee Gwinn reads her poetry selections.)
Amott said it is fitting to honor King's life and legacy at Knox, an institution founded by anti-slavery pioneers who were "inspired by that very powerful idea, the idea of freedom." They established a college dedicated to providing "freedom of inquiry and practical training to students, regardless of race or creed or financial means."
Knox still is among the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, "dedicated to Dr. King's unfinished project of building an inclusive and a beloved community," Amott said.
In his speech, Hamilton (in photo above left) stressed the relevancy of King's values today, when the most pressing issues include the economy, immigration policy, and war.
"The lessons learned during the civil rights years transcend the specific details of place and period," Hamilton said. "We must bridge the decades that separate King's era from ours, and find the timeless values that are as meaningful in 2013 as they were when Dr. King lived."
Hamilton and other speakers also paid tribute to Lawrence Breitborde, who will step down later this year from his longtime positions as dean of the college and vice president for academic affairs.
Breitborde has demonstrated "outstanding leadership" over the years in regard to inclusion and diversity on the Knox campus, Hamilton said. For example, he added, Knox faculty and students used to gather informally on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to discuss King's legacy. It was Breitborde who suggested making the King Day Convocation an official college event and moving it to a larger space where more people could attend.
In addition, Breitborde "has helped this college to build and maintain a level of diversity among its faculty that is the envy of many comparable institutions," Hamilton said. He noted that more than 11% of the college's tenured and tenure-track faculty members are faculty of color.
The convocation ended with every member of the audience joining the Knox Choir in singing one of King's favorite civil rights anthems, "We Shall Overcome."
"It's absolutely wonderful that we ended with that song," said Knox sophomore Bill Marion of Peoria, Illinois. "We definitely got a sense of community here."
Allison Fry, a Knox sophomore from St Louis, Missouri, added, "As college students, we're at a point in our lives where activism can play a huge role and hearing people speak on ideas like direct action has a huge influence. It's important to keep human rights in mind as we venture forward." (Photo above right: The Knox College Choir performs at the King Day Convocation. Photo below: Knox College Choir Director Laura Lane, professor of music and director of choirs, leads the audience in singing "We Shall Overcome.")