Ibram X. Kendi, professor of history and international relations, and founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, delivered the Martin Luther King Jr. keynote address in Wait Chapel on Jan. 20.
For 20 years, Wake Forest and Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) have collaborated on bringing in a keynote speaker to honor the life and legacy of King, making it the longest-running partnership between the two institutions.
Kendi, author of “How to be an Antiracist,” defined a racist idea as any idea that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group in any way.
“We talk a lot about King’s dream. We talk a lot about racial progress, and indeed there has been racial progress, but we also must talk about King’s nightmare, which was the progression of racism, the sophistication of racist policies, of racist ideas and even of racial violence.” Ibram X. Kendi
“This is the America we’re living in, and this is the America King feared,” Kendi said.
Kendi concluded his speech by posing several questions. “What are we going to do as individuals,” he asked. “What side of this struggle are we going to be on? Are we going to take the anti-racist position, or are we going to take the racist position by doing nothing or actively enforcing racism? That is the fundamental question.”
The Winston-Salem State University Gospel Choir performed during the event, which also featured remarks by Wake Forest University President Nathan O. Hatch and Winston-Salem State University Chancellor Elwood L. Robinson.
Before Kendi’s speech, a ceremony for this year’s “Building the Dream” winners was held in the Donald J. Reaves Student Center on the campus of Winston-Salem State University. The award is traditionally presented to a professor or administrator and a student from both Wake Forest and WSSU who exemplify King’s qualities and promote diversity within the community.
Wake Forest employees Shannon Ashford and Darlene Starnes, and WSSU employee Heather Davis were honored, as were Wake students Neicy Myers and Liz Torres-Ramirez and WSSU student Naviyea Adams.
Ashford is associate director of diversity education in Wake Forest’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion. “Shannon is truly an advocate for the betterment of our broader WFU and local community in the diversity, equity and inclusion space,” said co-nominator Brooke Thomas, assistant director student athlete development. “On campus, she has crafted a robust education and competency-based program for faculty, students and staff as it relates to inclusive excellence and the foundations of doing more than paying lip service to these principles.”
Starnes is human resources project manager at Wake Forest. “For 15 years, Mrs. Starnes has built a home for students of diverse backgrounds…” said senior sociology major and nominator Alexander Holt. “It is Mrs. Starnes’ dedication to relationship building, character building and the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of all those who come into her space that sets her apart. While there are many others that do this work, none shows up with the kind of authenticity and authoritative care that Mrs. D. does.”
Myers is a senior sociology major from Scranton, South Carolina. “Neicy has dedicated her time and work ethic to the honoring and sustainability of black students,” said nominator, Jonathan McElderry, executive director, Intercultural Center and assistant dean of students. “As an RA, she works tirelessly to create spaces for students of color and encourages dialogue and intentional programming throughout residence halls to implement diversity and inclusion practices. She believes in the critical power of bridging the WFU community with our greater Winston-Salem community.”
Torres-Ramirez is a senior politics and international affairs major from Manassas, Virginia, and a Magnolia Scholar. “Liz works tirelessly on Wake Forest’s campus to broaden diversity and inclusion,” said nominator and senior math major Iman Ahmed. “In times of adversity, she’s a strong and steadfast rock…I truly believe Liz embodies the characteristics of leadership, justice, resilience and engagement. She is a hard worker and has gone out of her way to make WFU a more inclusive space.”
Davis is an assistant dean of campus life at WSSU and oversees the development and coordination of personal and professional development and well-being of students. She was named NCAA Woman of the Year for North Carolina and is an inductee in the Clarence E. “Big House” Gaines Hall of Fame. She is an active member of the WSSU National Alumni Association, The Winston-Salem Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and a graduate of Leadership Winston-Salem.
Adams is a junior physical education major from Fayetteville, North Carolina. According to WSSU, he started a Secret Santa drive that has impacted more than 20 families and raised more than $500 to support people in Fayetteville and Charlotte. A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Adams is an entrepreneur and owner of “Navi’s Sweet Treats.” Moreover, as a campus ambassador, he has led more than 150 tours at Winston-Salem State.
This year’s jointly sponsored MLK activities will conclude with Saturday’s Read-In for children ages 4-11 inside the Reaves Student Center at WSSU. Register your child here. Registration closes on Jan. 23.