MLK Week keynote speaker Joyce Ladner says young people must seek out own cause

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Joyce Ladner

Joyce Ladner speaks at Memorial Chapel as a photo of her with Martin Luther King Jr. is projected behind her. (Photo by Andy Daddio)

The song “Glory” from the critically acclaimed film Selma played as members of the Colgate community filled Memorial Chapel last Thursday to hear MLK Week keynote speaker Joyce Ladner deliver an address titled “Freedom Summer and Beyond: The Roles of Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement.”

“The people cast aside, those on the bottom, the people on the fringes of society are those who make the tough sacrifices. Those were the ones that you saw at the front of the picket lines,” said Ladner.

A civil rights activist during Freedom Summer, Ladner shared her experience as a volunteer, noting the importance of women in the effort: “At every demonstration that I went to, all the voter registration canvassing I’ve done, women were at the forefront,” she said.

The accomplished scholar and sociologist shared many personal stories from the civil rights movement, notably meeting King on several occasions, attending his “I Have a Dream” speech, and participating in the March on Washington.

Ladner spoke of how the fight for civil rights defined her youth and how each wave of young people must seek out its own mission.

“Your generation will find what is important to you and you will fulfill that, or not,” said Ladner.

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the summer of 1964, first year students read Freedom Summer by Bruce Watson and viewed a documentary titled Freedom on My Mind as part of a yearlong, campus-wide initiative. Ladner spoke about her firsthand experience working to register African American voters in the South during the “long, hot summer” of ’64.

“I look back on [the summer] now and it is hard for me to imagine that a small group of people could, indeed, effect change,” said Ladner.

The fight for civil rights was a pervasive theme throughout MLK Week, which kicked off January 19 with an opening ceremony and a student keynote address by Kori Strother ’15. The week’s schedule offered numerous events and activities that focused on King’s mission.

Professors Charles Banner-Haley and Engda Hagos led workshops on topics including civil rights and King’s dream, a panel of international students discussed the fight for human rights across the globe, and the week also included film screenings, student-led brown bags, and musical performances.

MLK Week came to a close on Friday with the COVE’s Martin Luther King Jr. Afternoon of Community Service that offered students, faculty and staff opportunities to volunteer their time to nearby communities.