MLK dinner kicks off week-long celebration

Members of the SU community gathered to eat and hear speakers, poets, and musicians pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy.

The 26th annual dinner in the Carrier Dome honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a call to action as well as a celebration. 


Speakers and performers centered the evening's discourse on the importance of celebrating King's memory and work in everyday life, and not just at ceremonies or memorials. 

Photo: Sarah Kinslow
Keynote speaker, Kirt H. Wilson, addressed the 2,000-person audience from the podium Sunday night. Wilson is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.


More than 240 tables of hungry diners on the Carrier Dome lawn shared a meal of traditional southern cooking Sunday night, Jan. 23, chowing down on cornbread, collard greens, black-eyed peas and banana pudding.


During the first portion of the evening's program, the lights dimmed as a short video of King delivering various speeches during the Civil Rights era played on a projector screen. “It isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are,” King said in his familiar, soaring baritone.


The evening included performances from community and SU choirs, elementary school children, brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and poets.


Then, Michelle Singletary, Assistant Director in the Office of Residence Life, and member of the planning committee, announced the recipients of this year’s Unsung Hero awards. The award recognizes students, and members of the university and Syracuse community whose humanitarian efforts and work go largely unrecognized. Among this year's Unsung Heroes were Omolara Funmilola Akinpelu, a research associate at Syracuse University; Eileen E. Baldassarre of SUNY-ESF; Sacchi Patel, a graduate student at SU's School of Education; and Kwame Adusei, an obstetrician and gynecologist at St. Joseph's Hospital. 



Members of the Underground Poets Spot lined up and delivered freestyle poems in a performance they called, “We Continue to Rise.” The inspirational poem advocated greater emphasis on educational rights and social benefits for the poor and under-served in the United States. One poet celebrated the number of views King’s “I Have a Dream” speech received on YouTube and then lamented the fact that 1,300 people rated the speech with a “thumbs down." The group finished by telling the audience to rise, and asking those still in their seats, “What are you still sitting for?”


Snippets from Dr. King’s speeches echoed throughout the evening.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”


“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”


“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”


The keynote address both celebrated and cast a critical eye at the circumstances in which communities absorb and embrace King’s words.


The keynote speaker, Kirt H. Wilson, delivered a lesson in rhetoric and history, which pushed audience members to analyze how we discuss race in today's society. Wilson is an associate professor of communication arts and sciences at the Pennsylvania State University. 


Wilson discussed Coretta Scott King’s memorial service in 2006, a nationally televised event which lasted nearly six hours with performances by Grammy winners, speeches by former and current presidents and celebrities. “Was it a triumph or demise of King’s dream?” Wilson asked.


Wilson argued that the problem the United States faces today is not that people can’t talk about race but that there seems to be a “code” about when and where. Ceremonies and memorials, such as Coretta Scott King’s memorial service and Sunday night’s dinner, honor activists, but oftentimes compartmentalize the Civil Rights movement into a neat “appropriate” evening of value reinforcement, Wilson said. Goals of the Civil Rights era, and the political beliefs of the activists that led the Civil Rights movement, rarely make it into the economic and policy debates where discussing them could bring about actual change, Wilson said.


Ultimately Wilson urged the audience to demand more from political dialogue and to free King’s messages from the confines of history books, and launch them into political discourse.


The Martin Luther King Dinner marked the start to "Dream Week," sponsored by the Office of Residence Life at SU this week, Jan. 23-28.  The week will include events such as the "Field of Dreams," a keynote address on Wednesday by Dorothy Butler Gilliam, a well-respected columnist for the Washington Post during the Civil Rights era, and the MLK Campus Day of Service.  For a full list and description of the week's events, visit the SU Office of Residence Life website.  


2011 Unsung Hero Award recipients:


Omolara Funmilola Akinpelu, Project Emerge

Akinpelu is a lifelong advocate for people with disabilities and founder of Project Emerge, an initiative which creates inclusive community prevention and response systems for women with disabilities. Project Emerge works with ARISE and the Vera House to improve service to women with disabilities and who are often survivors of domestic and sexual violence.


Eileen E. Baldassarre, C-STEP Coordinator, SUNY ESF

Baldassarre works with students and plans programming in ESF’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. She also volunteers at Loretto Nursing Home, has held clothing and furniture drives for economically disadvantage citizens and worked with international students at ESF. In 2008 she spearheaded a community effort to support US Olympian and Tully resident Lopez Lomong to send his adoptive parents and coach to China to watch him participate in the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing.


Kwame Adusei, M.D.

Adusei is an obstetrician and gynecologist in Syracuse who has worked to improve healthcare in Syracuse as well as in his hometown in Ghana. Adusei spent thousands of dollars to ship medical supplies to Ghana and recently created a Pharmacy. Adusei provides medical care to villagers as well as blood pressure and diabetes screenings. He’s brought attention to the Syracuse community by bringing colleagues from Central New York on trips to the under-served country.


Sacchi Patel, student, School of Education

Patel, a graduate student in cultural foundations of educations in SU’s School of Education works as a graduate assistant in the SU R.A.P.E. Center. Patel is a long-time advocate the male role in ending sexual violence. Patel mentors members of A Men’s Issue, the first and only all-male student organization at SU dedicated to the male role in ending sexual violence.






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