The event was organized by Lehigh’s MLK Committee, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Community Conversations About Race, a program of the Faculty and Staff of Color Network. Featured guests were Karen Britt, a member of the Easton, Pa., NAACP and professor of business administration and economics at Northampton Community College, and Chad Williams, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at Lehigh.
“We acknowledge and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Williams said. “We recognize that there has been progress. We recognize that we are part of that progress as we stand on the shoulders of giants. But we also recognize that there is a lot more to do, that the dream has not been fully actualized or realized. And so that's why we are here with you today."
In referencing the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Britt said problems have to be illuminated in order to be able to deal with those problems as a community. “Chaos and confusion, what does that bring forth?” she asked.
Williams talked about the importance of civic education and the value of community programs, such as the MLK event, that bring people together for discussions.
“We can disagree, right?” Williams asked. “We can have a difference of opinion. We can have differences of perspectives—politically, economically, racially—but at the end of the day, we must learn how to be able to still conversate, still talk about these differences, and not allow that to lead us into hate, and unfortunately, into violence.”
Also, Britt said, “you do not want to turn your head away as if it doesn't exist, that all is fine with the world. We can disagree, but the commonality, that thread in this country is that we are Americans. So what common ground can we find?”
One of the pillars in King’s message, she said, is to stand up for justice and democracy, to start at that common ground and move on. “We can disagree, but we still have to respect one another as human beings, as individuals, no matter what community you represent,” she said.
Though people refer to America as a melting pot, it should be more like a stew, she said. “And in a stew, you don't assimilate. The pea remains the pea, the carrot remains the carrot, the potato remains the potato. You can be who you are in a stew. But if I'm a melting pot, that means I have to melt and assimilate to everybody...and that is not the strength. Our strength is in our diversity, and we have to come to the realization that there is strength in diversity.”
With participants deep in discussions, the event ran longer than its scheduled 90 minutes. Topics also included current race relations and human rights activist Malcolm X.
Community Conversations About Race will continue on Thursday, Jan. 21, at noon when Lehigh Professor Jennifer Swann and Lehigh Learning and Development Specialist Tarah Cicero facilitate an online discussion on “How to Have Difficult Conversations With Your Family.”