Guilford joins UNCG and NC A&T to celebrate MLK

Colleges across Greensboro celebrated and recognized the life and accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year marked the ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in a virtual event after what would have been the minister and civil rights activist’s 92nd birthday.

Guilford College, alongside UNC Greensboro (UNCG) and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NC A&T), hosted the event on Jan. 27. The program, supported by UNCG’s racial equity website, had a variety of live-streamed discussions, as well as previously recorded videos dedicated towards commemorating the achievements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The celebration included a series of spoken word poems, read by one student from each of the colleges.

The night began with a musical performance of the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which was sung by Cassia Williams, a member of the NC A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir. Following the song was a virtual tour of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, located in downtown Greensboro.

Although the event was held in remembrance of King, it also covered events in American history that preceded him. “The Complex Tapestry,” a video presented by La’Tonya Wiley, examined the American flag and the nation’s history with freedom, slavery and segreration. Wiley, a special events coordinator at the museum, then presented a brief documentary that aimed to “deconstruct (the) tapestry and examine the complexity of promise and practice.” The video was filmed at the museum—the same space where four Black students at NC A&T sat at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in 1960, which ultimately sparked a series of peaceful sit-in protests during the Civil Rights movement.

In an event titled “Student Activism: Them and Now,” the 2021 Joint MLK Celebration also discussed more contemporary instances during this decade, such as the Black Lives Matter protests mostly occurring last summer, as well as converse events, such as the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January.

“It’s honestly a pure act of selfishness, hatred and white privilege,” said Guilford sophomore Mariam Sheriff when asked about the pro-Trump rioters contesting the 2020 presidential election results. “Their full intent was to cause mayhem, and that is exactly what they did. There is proof and videos of them getting away with so much.” 

Other student activists on the panel, such as Arthur Claiborne of NC A&T and Edmund Gayton of UNCG, considered the storming of the capitol as both “disheartening” and “not surprising,” respectively. 

In addition to a dialogue on recent events, the panel also spoke in regards to advice for other student activists, particularly in the Greensboro area. 

“It’s important to know your audience,” Sheriff commented. “I think that it is important to plan everything to a tee and it’s important to know your rights when it comes to protesting.”

The student activism panel was followed by a spoken word poem from Guilford College senior and Greensboro native Erin Jeffers. Jeffers, a sports management major, drew from personal experiences and the teachings of Dr. King when reciting her poem. 

“Dr. King said whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,” said Jeffers. “Just because you didn’t say it to my face doesn’t mean you didn’t disrespect me.” 

Commenting on King’s lasting legacy, Jeffers stated, “Dr. King pulled his speeches from so many Bible verses. He would speak, and some people still don’t understand that his words still have purpose.” 

Damien Bell represented NC A&T when reciting his spoken word poem while Ny’Azjah Spruel represented UNCG.

Guilford College and NC A&T will reunite in a virtual event, “Living History: Interracial Student Collaborations in Guilford’s Jim Crow Years,” alongside Bennett College on Wednesday, Feb. 17 at 1p.m.