The University of Michigan Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium memorial keynote lecture Monday featured speakers Maria de Lourdes Hinojosa Ojeda and Dr. Rashad Richey. The virtual keynote was one of many events held as a part of the 2022 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium titled “This Is America.”
Organized by the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, the Symposium has been an annual event since 1986. This year, the events were originally scheduled to take place in person at Hill Auditorium, but were moved to a virtual format due to rising COVID-19 cases.
Keynote speaker Richey — a professor, political analyst and Emmy-nominated broadcaster — discussed the transformation and palatability of Rev. Dr. King’s ideas, as well as how he was perceived by the public.
“We have cherry picked what we would like Dr. King to be,” Richey said. “Dr. King was called radical. They called him a communist. They said he was a socialist. The same people who called him that were simply adversarial to a policy change in America.”
Richey also emphasized the importance of understanding the difference between equality and equity.
“This issue of equality versus equity has been front and center in many conversations in this country. I think some people have intentionally mischaracterized the two,” Richey said. “Dr. King talked about something called genuine equality as opposed to equality as it relates to mobility, to the Civil Rights Bill that allows you to go places. He said ‘we need genuine equality.’ That was his way of saying equity.”
Hinojosa, multimedia journalist and author, spoke regarding the significance of both owning and sharing one’s history and story while connecting her messages to the life and lessons of Dr. King.
“When I, as an invisible, Mexican immigrant, heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech, it changed everything for me,” Hinojosa said. “I remember saying,‘I can be part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s America. He makes me feel like I am a part of this country, of his country.’ For a little kid, it changes everything. It makes you present, it makes you visible.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event, Hinojosa shared her most memorable parts of the keynote speech, including Dr. Richey’s lecture.
“I think the biggest takeaway for me is to realize that Luther King is like us,” Hinojosa said. “He’s not a superhuman being. His entire life was one of struggle, and he was a deep and complex thinker. That’s why I love what Dr. Richie said. He stressed that we really need to question capitalism and who is part of the story of civil rights and equality in this country.”
Event organizers from the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives (OAMI) spoke to The Daily about their goals for the event, including conveying honest and balanced perspectives. Program Director Janice Jones said they wanted to find a balance of positive and negative to show all perspectives of the significance of MLK day.
“We wanted to make sure that we presented a balanced picture. There have been some gains in this fight for rights and communities that are marginalized, but then there’s also been some injustices that are still on the table (and) have been for a long time,” Jones said. “We didn’t try to sway the public one way or another. We wanted to just present what we’re seeing, both the positive and the not-so-positive.”
According to Program Manager Gregory Thomas, the OAMI chose Hinojosa and Dr. Richey to speak because they presented unique perspectives that can help motivate younger audiences to pursue their dreams.
“These two dynamic speakers shared how their lived experience shaped who they are today and why they do the things they do now to combat the struggles that they experienced,” Thomas said. “We hope that the message … will inspire our young folks in particular to do the same thing, and to have a domino effect in terms of the elevation of pursuing careers that’s going to be life changing not only for themselves, but for the people that they work hard for.”
Public Policy senior Julianna Collado, a student intern for the event, spoke about why she chose to get involved. As a second generation Afro-Cuban immigrant, Collado also shared what she found most meaningful from helping organize the event and listening to the speeches.
“I really wanted to spend time during my senior year really investing more and re-exploring my Black identity again, which has been really interesting through this role,” Collado said. “One big piece that I took away was owning my voice and owning my story. You couldn’t have this conversation without policy. I think they referenced so many different things in the keynote about the importance of policy change, of voting rights and of looking back at how even though some policies have been overturned, they still have a legacy that’s causing disparities across communities.”
Daily Staff Reporter Carly Brechner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.