By Sylvia Cunningham

Keynote speaker Dr. Lewis Gordon first stepped up to the mic. Then, he stepped out of his shoes. He wore a shirt, pictured below, with text that read “Danger: Educated Black Man.”

“In fact, if UConn is doing its work well, there should be a whole lot of dangerous people coming out of this joint,” Gordon said.

Kendra Thomas performs a poetic vignette during the ceremony.  Photo by Santiago Pelaez (WHUS)

Kendra Thomas performs a poetic vignette during the ceremony. Photo by Santiago Pelaez (WHUS)

Gordon, a professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Observance, critiquing the idea of “so-called racial dialogues.”

“Because you see what many people do in the United States is they have these pseudo-intellectual debates,” Gordon said. “And you know what these debates are? These things are premised upon an effort to see who wins.”

Instead of going into a room to “win” an argument, Gordon urged people to go into a room to “work together to understand a reality.”

During the ceremony’s opening remarks, UConn President Susan Herbst said anniversaries like this are important because they are a chance to “pause and take stock of where we stand and the challenges we still face in living up to Dr. King’s dream.” Herbst cited incidents in Ferguson, New York City and Cleveland as examples of such challenges.

Professor Lewis Gordon if the UConn Department of Philosophy and the Africana Studies institute, delivers the keynote speech during the ceremony. Photo by Santiago Pelaez (WHUS).

Professor Lewis Gordon of the UConn Department of Philosophy and the Africana Studies institute, delivers the keynote speech during the ceremony. Photo by Santiago Pelaez (WHUS).

“It’s very easy to feel despair at those events. It’s even easier to conclude as cynical people do that we’re no closer to the goal of a fully equal society than we were 50 years ago,” Herbst said. “But despair does a disservice to Martin Luther King, Jr.”

As the ceremony drew to a close, a group of UConn students took the stage and performed a piece that incorporated both poetry and song.

Although UConn senior Shantel Honeyghan has performed in the MLK, Jr. ceremony in previous years, she said this time was different. Honeyghan said with the events that had transpired in recent months – this year’s performance was more personal.

“It’s not only what MLK has done, but it’s also a responsibility of ours to continue that cycle by continuing to break that silence and speak up even as students here on campus and in other areas of our lives as well,” Honeyghan said.

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