Stronger Together: Colgate University Hosts Annual MLK Celebration

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For nearly two decades, Colgate University’s Africana, Latin, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) Cultural Center has organized a week of events to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his continuing legacy — both at Colgate and in the world.

This year’s celebration included seven days of extensive programming, Jan. 23–29, centering on the theme Stronger Together.

Community members gathered in Memorial Chapel on Jan. 23 for an opening ceremony featuring speeches from Kwabena Owusu Ansah ’24 and Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric Kermit Campbell as well as lyrical performances by Ta’Von Amir Walker ’25 and Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures John Crespi. Special group performances from a cappella group the Resolutions and dance exhibitions by the Sipsam and Wolfpack dance troupes were also featured.

In the days following the opening ceremony, a variety of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events further explored King’s legacy and the ways that communities can join together in the continuing struggle for diversity and inclusivity.

Colgate community members engaged in a dialogue around campus resources, including HAVEN, the counseling center, LGTBQIA+, Shaw Wellness Institute, and Student Health Services. This program, “Stronger Together Through Collective Wellness,” explored the definition of “wellness” generally and in underserved communities, where wellness is often secondary to other more immediate issues such as wage and health disparities. Through these discussions, community members brainstormed ways that the wellness of all students can be better protected within the Colgate community.

During another event — “Designing Your Own Leadership” — student leaders worked with personal and leadership development coach Rodney Agnant ’14, director for inclusion and belonging, to uncover their unique styles of leadership.

In a keynote speech on Thursday, Jan. 26, Bishop Edwin C. Bass ’71 discussed the way that people today can come together in pursuit of the America of which King dreamed.

While at Colgate, Bass participated in the historic 1968 sit-in that resulted in vital changes on campus, including the creation of the ALANA Cultural Center. After graduating from Colgate, Bass’ commitment to establishing community continued in Ferguson, Mo., where he brought residents together following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.

Recognizing that his city was in turmoil, Bass took to the streets, talking and praying with protesters and police alike. Using a combination of his faith and the leadership skills he had developed while at Colgate, Bass helped to unify the city at its most divided moment. Reflecting back, Bass invoked the words of King, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things that are great.” As a result of his active role in the midst of such tragedy, Bass was later asked to speak at Brown’s funeral.

“We are better together. Unity is the mortar that turns a pile of bricks into an impenetrable wall,” explained Bass. “Unity is essential for any successful endeavor, and some critical changes in our nation can only be realized through unity.”

Bass asked the audience to come together to transform both Colgate and the world at large into more welcoming and inclusive spaces. “Everyone can make a positive contribution in the ongoing struggle for justice, equity, and the creation of a more perfect union,” said Bass. “And no matter how massive a project is, there are still tasks that can only be completed by a single man with a shovel.”

Following this call to action, Bass was joined on stage by Esther Rosbrook, director of the ALANA Cultural Center and chair of the MLK Committee, for a conversation that drew on questions from members of the Colgate community.

The week ended with a daylong virtual social justice summit between representatives from Colgate and its fellow New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium members; a Sunday service focused on the idea of the beloved community that King strived for; a Unity Dinner; and an afternoon of service, coordinated by the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education. Volunteer work took place at a variety of local nonprofits addressing food insecurity, community history, access to the arts, and other social issues.

“The word celebration often refers to a finite period of time, but I do not believe that this is how the life of Dr. Martin Luther King is best celebrated,” said Rosbrook. “Only through the continuous celebration of King’s legacy will we be able to find strength in one another and our community even in the presence of fear and sadness.”