World of Wellesley (WOW) and Wellesley College welcomed over 150 attendees to the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast at the College’s Tishman Commons on MLK Day. Massachusetts State Representative Alice Peisch; all five members of the Select Board; School Committee members; WPS administration representatives, as well as other Town employees; Wellesley spiritual leaders; WOW board members; WHS and Dana Hall students; and many others, joined together to honor the legacy of MLK and reflect on public perceptions of the civil rights leader during his own time, and in the present.
WOW president Rama Ramaswamy started out the program with the inclusivity-focused organization’s Land Acknowledgement statement—“We as people who reside, work, and engage in Wellesley acknowledge this town is located on the traditional territory of the Massachusett People”—before shouting out past WOW president Michelle Chalmers, who was in attendance, and introducing the line-up of speakers.
Keynote speaker Dr. Jennifer Yanco, racial justice educator-activist, scholar, and author of Misremembering Dr. King: Revisiting the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., invited the audience to reconsider how Dr. King is remembered, and to revisit the radicalism of his work and legacy.
Dr. Yanco started out by asking the audience “to just take a moment to think about what does it really mean to honor someone? Dr. King was really a prophet and an incredible visionary, and social thinker, philosopher. And I think that in honoring someone it’s essential that we are true to what they are actually about” rather than cherry-picking the views that most closely align with our own.
Displaying statistics she researched and included as part of her book, Yanco cited an MLK approval rating of 25% in 1968 vs. an approval rating of 95% today. Back in 1968, “it was pretty clear that he was making people pretty uncomfortable,” she said. “What he had to say really challenged us to face things that we didn’t want to face about ourselves” such as not only racism, but militarism, and economic disparities.
The question is, Yanco asked, “are we now more comfortable with those things? Are we now more ready to go out and call out racial injustice, call out excessive militarism, call out the extreme poverty in this country? My theory is that the more we knew. the less popular he was, and that the only reason he’ s so popular now is that we’ve forgotten most of what he was talking about.”
Following Yanco’s talk, small-group conversations centered around the topics such as materialism, housing, and economic justice, among other issues.
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