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An MLK Day Message from the VP for Equity & Social Justice

Dear Emerson community,

Every year, we celebrate the legacy and memory of Dr. King—a name and the man we know—but the work and the social progress that continues today are due to the talents, the fortitude, and the commitment of many.

These people never made it into our textbooks.

There was Georgia Teresa Gilmore, who helped manage the “club from nowhere,” working with other Black women to sell pound cakes, sweet potato pies, fried fish, and stewed greens to pay for the fuel and insurance needed for the transportation system that arose in Montgomery during the 381-day bus boycott.

There was the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who kept racial justice organizing alive in Montgomery and Birmingham, Alabama after the NAACP was outlawed, long before Dr. King even moved there. Shuttlesworth became one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, working to orchestrate civil rights protest activities across the South.

There was Myles Horton, an ally and educator, who co-founded the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, a training ground for union organizing, civil rights leadership, and civil disobedience, including helping train many college students who launched the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

These dedicated people helped advance civil rights.

Their work persists, even if their names have been lost.

One year before he was assassinated, Dr. King said: “Every [person] of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits [their] convictions, but we must all protest.”

I share this because most calls on MLK Day encourage us to reflect backward on what has been done.

I would like to charge us to think forward on the work that remains, and how we can protest.

Protest is defined as: a statement or action expressing disapproval of or objection to something. We can write, we can march, we can provide mutual aid and support each other in varied individual and collective ways. We can protest injustice.

Injustice can still be found everywhere.

Racial disparities in wealth and income in the United States remain an acute matter of inequality.  People with disabilities experience poverty at nearly twice the rate of their non-disabled counterparts in the U.S. due to ableist hiring practices. In the Netherlands, concerns about the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers remains an issue. Around the world, millions will celebrate Lunar New Year next week, even as anti-Asian sentiment continues to surge. On January 27, we’ll observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yet, 78 years after the end of the Holocaust, anti-Semitic behavior is also on the rise.  

Issues of transphobia, racism, income inequality, ableism, and migration transcend borders.

Sometimes these stories are front page news, sometimes they are not. Whether or not we give these systemic issues our attention every day, they persist, and so, too, must we.

How will you protest?

Towards equity,
Shaya Gregory Poku
Vice President for Equity & Social Justice
Emerson College
Social Justice Collaborative (SJC) 

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