CNN anchor and author Soledad O’Brien delivered the keynote address in Wait Chapel for the 12th annual joint Wake Forest/Winston-Salem State Martin Luther King Jr. celebration held on Jan. 23.
At the opening of the event, “On Common Ground: Uniting Voices to Make History,” Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch called for a re-commitment to the values of Dr. King in achieving social justice for all.
O’Brien engaged the audience with stories of the early days of her career, when she faced overt racial prejudice — comparing her experiences to today’s often more subtle forms of racism. She also talked about the strength she drew from her parents and emphasized what she called “the tremendous power of being a witness.”
“Everyone deserves to have someone stand up for them,” she said. “The power of Dr. King was he was a regular man, inspired by a moment.… Be a regular person, deciding that today is the day you stand up, and you have a voice.… Nothing is worse than doing nothing and saying nothing when your voice is needed. Commit to making a difference as a regular human being, because we have that power.”
In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, one student and one professor or administrator from both Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State are recognized each year for their social justice efforts. This year, junior Bentrice Jusu and Wake Forest employee Stephen Hirst received the Building the Dream Award for embodying Dr. King’s spirit and working to make his dream come alive.
Jusu, a studio art major from Trenton, N.J., is the owner of Both Hands Artlet, a nonprofit organization serving inner-city youth who are endangered by violence in their homes and on the streets of Trenton. Jusu’s vision is for her business to become a creative outlet for all teens, not just those at risk. In 2011, she received the “Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award for a Social Venture” from the Wake Forest Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship.
Hirst, director of student leadership and organizations, was nominated for his work with the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). He was instrumental in developing the National Pan-Hellenic Council Garden, which pays tribute to nine historically African-American fraternities and sororities and their impact on Wake Forest and the larger community.
The recipients from WSSU are student Joevan Palmer and faculty member Soncerey Montgomery.
Two other events marked the celebration, the MLK Invitational Basketball Tournament, which brings together intramural teams from Wake Forest, WSSU, North Carolina A&T, Johnson C. Smith University, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Jan. 21, and the MLK GospelFest, featuring gospel artist Kierra “Kiki” Sheard on Jan. 22.
Because spring semester classes began on Jan. 18, MLK day activities were delayed one week.
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