On Sunday, Yale kicked off a two-week series of events honoring Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. including several speakers, an exhibit at the Peabody Museum and the screening of the movie “Selma.”
The celebration of King’s life and legacy has been organized under the theme “No Work is Insignificant: Moving Forward through Service, Scholarship and Solidarity.” Groups like the MLK Planning Committee, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and the department of African-American Studies worked together to organize these events. On Monday, Pastor Carlton Lee, whose flock included the late Michael Brown of Ferguson, Mo., took part in the series by speaking at Battell Chapel on Monday to roughly 250 members of the Yale and New Haven communities.
Despite what he described as police brutality and violence against African Americans — which have gained heightened national media attention in recent months — Lee said his approach toward the future remains aligned with that of King: nonviolent and peaceful.
“No matter what comes our way I still have to love my enemies,” he said. “My grandmother taught me sometimes you have to learn to love the hell out of your haters.”
Since the Brown shooting, Lee said he has received death threats and watched his church be burned to the ground. In one instance, he said he was arrested because, in the words of a police officer, he is “educated, vocal and a black male.”
Lee said he took part in protests nonviolently, although he could not keep a small fringe group of people from resorting to violence. This mounting violence led the police to become aggressive, he said.
“The police said if you cross the line we will shoot to kill,” he said. “No rubber bullets. No tear gas. They told us you cross the line we will shoot to kill.”
Monday’s event in Battell also included performances from a number of student groups, including the Yale Gospel Choir and Shades of Yale.
On Sunday, Johnnetta Cole — a cultural anthropologist and humanitarian activist who is also the former president of Spelman and Bennett colleges — also spoke in Battell at an event that attracted around 100 community members. Like Lee, Cole said that the state of racial equality has greatly improved since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but that the road ahead is still long.
“I firmly believe that were Dr. King able to speak to us right now, he would say that of course we have made substantial progress from the days of legal segregation,” she said. “And yet, the struggle continues not only for those of us who W.E.B Du Bois would call of the darker hue, but also for many other communities.”
At the Sunday talk, Mayor Toni Harp welcomed Cole to the city, adding that she admires Cole for the way in which she has devoted her life to turning King’s dream into a reality.
Seven students gave different reasons for why they appreciated the events. Rianna Johnson-Levy ’17 said she appreciated the setting and array of performances she saw at the Lee event, while Miles Saffran ’18 said he chose to attend the Cole lecture because he is determined to hear from unique speakers who come to Yale.
In addition to speakers and student performances, this weekend’s celebration of King also included an event at the Peabody, which is held every year on the holiday. Peabody Events Coordinator Josue Irizarry said the event, which was centered on environmental and social justice issues, featured 30 local organizations that engaged with visiting families from New Haven and Connecticut.
Wallingford resident Kim Cinquino said her family decided to come to the Peabody to see the MLK exhibit as well as the museum in its entirety, while New Haven resident Anne Watkins said she decided to come to the Peabody with her children because of the feeling of community the event evokes.
“It’s a nice opportunity for folks to come together and reflect,” she said. “The Peabody always does a good job and it’s great to come out and be here.”
There are also more events scheduled in the next week and a half. The movie “Selma” will be shown on Saturday afternoon in the Whitney Humanities Center. During his talk, Lee said aspects of the film relate to the events in Ferguson. For example, just like the police turned off streetlights during protests in Selma, they did the same in Ferguson, he said.
MLK Committee member Patricia Okonta ’15 said the screening of the film perfectly complements this year’s lineup of events.
“The timing of Selma is impeccable,” she said. “Not only does this movie tie into MLK and his legacy historically, but it also has implications on events in America today.”
MLK Committee chairman and Yale College Assistant Dean Rodney Cohen, who also serves as director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, said in an email to the News that he hopes this year’s celebratory events will encourage student conversation about racial relations.
Martin Luther King Jr. received an honorary degree from Yale in 1964.