31st Annual MLK Dinner

MLK Dinner speaker advocates for consolidating community movements

Activist and media personality Marc Lamont Hill served as the keynote speaker for the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and highlighted activism and agency.

Marc Lamont Hill said it’s easy to share stories about injustice on social media, but taking action is necessary to see true changes in today’s society. The Morehouse College professor shared his thoughts on social justice movements with those in attendance in the Carrier Dome Sunday during Syracuse University’s 31st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. 

Photo: Mariana Domingues
Members of Syracuse Orange Bhangra performed as part of the MLK celebration in the Carrier Dome Sunday.

“You can’t talk about Martin King and not talk about acting — acting bravely,” Hill said. “The biggest problem in the world today is that there are too many people that don’t do anything.”

Hill, who is the host of BET News, a political contributor for CNN and former host of HuffPost Live, served as this year’s keynote speaker and appeared to easily capture the audience throughout his energized and animated speech, tying in with the theme of “Remember, Celebrate and Act: Activism and Agency for the Future.”

Hill’s ability to connect to a younger generation helped set him apart from other potential keynote speakers, said Catherine Kellman, the committee chair of the event.

“We have activism and agency for the future and we thought ‘Who is doing that in a very future-ish way?’ ” Kellman said. “And Marc Lamont Hill uses his Twitter account, his Snapchat, he’s on Huffington Post, he does a lot of work for BET — so he does a lot of things in a virtual sense.”

Towards the end of his speech, Hill informed students how to successfully organize and advocate for change. He explained students shouldn’t go out and start new clubs, but rather join existing organizations to grow and focus on making a difference.

“You’ve got these young folks who would rather start an organization than join one,” Hill said. “I go to college campuses and there will be 50 black people, 25 organizations. Everybody is president and vice president. That isn’t about the movement, that’s about you."

Freshman Victoria Lawson said she felt inspired after Hill’s hourlong speech came to a close.

“I loved it. It really inspired me to want to speak up and work in a group, and not be alone,” Lawson said. “Basically we need to do something and build a community and not just talk about the issues, but actually make them come to life and fix them.”

Many of the students who were there are resident advisors. In recent years, RAs have been required to attend the dinner to better their understanding of social justice. RA Brian Pelletier said he recognizes the value of attending, even if it is mandatory.

“It’s important because in our job, specifically diversity and inclusion is one of the most important aspects,” Pelletier said. “So this is just something that further allows us to not only celebrate an event that happened years ago, but allows us to further try to become more diverse and more inclusive for our residents.”

Hill also challenged the public to ask different questions, to demand those in power to do better and to be honest, even when it’s hard.

“Who do we want to be? What do we want to be? To act bravely is to speak the truth, even when it is difficult,” Hill said. “The truth is easy when everyone is on your side, but speak the truth though it may be bitter.”

The celebration also honored students Kanisha Ffriend, Montinique McEachern and Imani Wallace, SU staff member Maarten Jacobs and one community member Tan Ngo as Unsung Heroes who were recognized as sharing the same principles embodied in King’s life and work.

Awesome Piece

Great article! Thank you for sharing this, it makes me wish I could've made it to this event. Is this event on youtube?

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