‘Fierce Urgency of Now’: Honoring Martin Luther King Jr.

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Nominations for the Social Justice Awards—given during MLK celebrations—are due Nov. 23.


“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” So said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967, in an address at New York City’s Riverside Church in which he voiced his opposition to America’s prosecution of the war in Vietnam.

Fifty years later, the specific issues may have changed, but we are still confronted with urgent needs, says Evelynn Ellis, vice president for Institutional Diversity and Equity. That’s why “The Fierce Urgency of Now” is the theme of this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, beginning the week of Jan. 16, 2017, she says.

This year’s keynote speaker is the Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a minister, songwriter, and activist who helped lead efforts to train activists in nonviolent civil disobedience during the demonstrations in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014.

One of Sekou’s gifts, Ellis says, is his ability to “reach across borders of socioeconomic class, educational class, race. He can talk about all these issues that we’re facing now and get us to first of all realize they’re urgent, we need to deal with them now, and we are all responsible.”

Ellis says now is the time to nominate Dartmouth community members for Social Justice Awards, given every year to recognize alumni, faculty, staff, and others connected to the College for significant contributions to social justice.

“Most people on campus know someone connected to Dartmouth who has done incredible work toward social justice, whether it be for church, for the elderly, for the disabled, for undocumented students, for veterans,” Ellis says. “This is not the year to be lax in saying to people, you are incredible.”

Four Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Awards recognize emerging leadership, ongoing commitment, lifetime achievement, and a student organization, respectively. In addition, the Lester B. Granger ’18 Award is given to an alumnus or alumna for lifetime achievement, and the Holly Fell Sateia Award recognizes faculty and staff who have been leaders in advancing diversity and community.

The awards, Ellis says, “remind us, number one, of what we can achieve. These are regular people achieving great things. If we stay the path, we will accomplish great things.”

To nominate a candidate, community members must submit the nomination form by Nov. 23. The awards will be presented at 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 in Filene Auditorium. They are sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee, the Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity, the William Jewett Tucker Center, the Dartmouth Center for Service, and the Geisel School of Medicine.

Other events during this year’s celebration include a candlelight vigil; conversations at the Tucker Center and the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy with Joshua DuBois, CEO of Values Partnerships and author of The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings that Inspired President Obama; and panel discussions, film screenings, and performances at the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

Keynote presenter Sekou is the inaugural Bayard Rustin Fellow at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the country’s oldest interfaith peace organization. He was a 2014 visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Education and Research Institute and served as pastor for Formation and Justice at First Baptist Church in Boston’s Jamaica Plain.

He is also a performer. With singer-songwriter Jay-Marie Hill, Sekou collaborated on the album The Revolution Has Come, which includes the single “We Comin’,” described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as an anthem of “the new civil rights movement.”

Performance will be part of his presentation, Ellis says. “He will do a mix of talking to us, and then he’ll sing. I guess he’ll sing when we’re looking so sad we need to hear a song.”

Hannah Silverstein