In celebration of the life and work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and in light of the upcoming inauguration, Yale will be holding commemorative events over the course of more than a week surrounding the national holiday.
Martin Luther King Jr. day programming kicked off Thursday night with a discussion panel that evaluated the implications and effects of President-elect Barack Obama’s electoral victory. The panel, “On Victory: Have We Run the Race?,” included three Yale professors: Khalilah Brown-Dean, Ezra Griffith and Jafari Allen. Before a packed audience at the Afro-American Cultural Center, the three panelists addressed topics ranging from black LGBTQ issues to the high expectations facing the Obama administration.
“What my grandparents worked for was bigger than one election or one candidate or one party,” said Brown-Dean, a professor of African-American studies and political science. “When we talk about having won this victory, I hope we can talk about the fact that black politics has never been about one issue.”
Assistant professor of anthropology and African-American studies Allen opened the session with the story of his college education at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, which he described as a “citadel of education for black men.” Allen, a gay man, spoke of the conformist pressures he felt from the surrounding black society.
“It wasn’t until I made a very public announcement of the fact that I was gay that I was told that I was no longer welcome,” Allen said. “Once removed from that family, I gained another kind of perspective of what was happening in black America.”
The election of Obama was an exciting moment, Allen said, but the passage of Proposition 8 in California — which prohibits same-sex marriage — was a disappointment.
Brown-Dean said seeing Obama win was deeply personal. As a child, Brown-Dean said she remembers her grandfather driving people to the polls and ensuring that his grandchildren register to vote at age 18. That behavior, Brown-Dean said, illustrates how every member of a community has a place in initiating societal change.
Brown-Dean added that Obama must find the balance between pragmatic, opportunistic coalitions that will win re-election and not forgetting the agenda of the people who voted him into office in the first place.
Griffith said this election holds powerful meaning for many people, but he noted internal transformation cannot be achieved through a single dramatic experience. Griffith pointed out that the Bush administration appointed two “dark-skinned” secretaries of state, evidence, Griffith said, that change was already underway.
“It was nationally visible, which makes it a really unique phenomenon,” Griffith said. “It is bothersome to me when people, in focusing in one dramatic event, tend to forget all the evolutionary things that preceded the phenomenon.”
The MLK discussion panel on race and justice was the first in a series of events sponsored by the President’s Office, the Yale College Dean’s Office, the Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Office, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion in anticipation of next week’s holiday. Events follow the theme “Because of His Dream: ‘Yes, We Can.’ ” Over the coming days, students can expect, among other events, a talk presented by a civil rights activist, a discussion of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and a Unity Ball, a reception in Commons set for Jan. 23.