Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney highlighted the ability for the University of Richmond to lead the way for change and prosperity through education during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration on Jan. 24.
This year, the event took place nine days after the national holiday because of the later start of the academic semester.
“In so many ways the story of Richmond is the story of America,” Stoney said. “You simply cannot understand the deep divides in this community without confronting Richmond’s, and America’s, deep and complicated legacy of racism and segregation.”
As the youngest elected mayor in Richmond’s history, Stoney has worked to improve Richmond’s public education system and solve housing disparities in the impoverished sections of the city. Stoney spoke as the keynote speaker, after three students reflected on their personal experiences as students of color.
Each year, the Office of Common Ground works with the MLK Day Committee to produce the commemoration. This year's theme was Activating the Beloved Community.
Senior Marius Young was the first student to speak, focusing on self-reflection and how efficiency in education propels King’s “beloved community” in society today.
“Ask yourself what can I do, what should I do, but most importantly, what will I do,” Young said. “If you cannot be the tree that sprouts from the earth, then be the leaf. If you cannot be the person that makes the change toward some form of progress, then spark the mind that does.”
Juniors Jacob Roberson and Alicia Jiggetts also encouraged students and community members to come together as a community to evoke a change through new laws and personal habits.
“Martin Luther King [Jr.], as many other civil rights leaders, was a catalyst for change,” Jiggetts said. “All of these leaders were everyday people like us, who took the initiative and the risk to create a beloved community out of a damaged one.”
Four student organizations participated in the commemoration. Ngoma African Dance Company performed a traditional dance and the Octaves performed a rendition of "MLK" by U2. Seven members of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Alpha combined to perform a step dance and finished their act by holding hands at the front of the stage while each member said, “I am the beloved community” as he or she joined the line.
“I think the principles of Dr. King and the beloved community can serve as a guiding light to that path we need to take toward growing our compassion,” Stoney said.
Stoney echoed Young’s push for efficiency in progress: “We can’t simply wait for the convenient time to make change. We have to dive in now. We are only as strong as our weakest neighborhood or our most vulnerable neighbor.”
Stoney’s speech continuously tied King’s messages to current problems in Richmond, including the controversy over Monument Avenue and the tense political climate, both nationally and statewide.
“Those monuments remaining today represent a shameful reminder of a past that do not reflect the values of equal opportunity and diversity celebrated since in the city of Richmond,” Stoney said. “This isn’t the time to fade into the background. This is the time to act now.”
Contact news writer Stacey Dec at firstname.lastname@example.org.