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Jan. 18 brought together alumni, students, faculty, staff and the wider community of St. Norbert College to listen, learn, connect and converse on issues that divide us and steps to the solutions that will unite us. Resources are available for readers, too!

Beloved Community: SNC Learns Together on Martin Luther King Day 2021

Jan. 18 brought together alumni, students, faculty, staff and the wider community of St. Norbert College to listen, learn, connect and converse on issues that have divided the world and steps to solutions that will unite it.

The MLK Day Beloved Community Teach-In, scheduled to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and provide tools to help counter racism, included a keynote session from a scholar of race and ethnicity at King’s own alma mater, Boston University, plus a rich selection of workshop offerings from members of the college community. We share these thought-provoking words, captured as the day unrolled, along with further resources offered from campus.

“If Dr. King were alive today, I wonder what he would say to help us keep our hope alive? I suspect he would repeat for us what he shared many years ago when he spoke of the relationship between power and love. … ‘Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.’ And to us as educators he may also say, and I quote, ‘Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from fiction. The function of education,’ [King] went on, ‘therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.’ I call on all of you – us, as a community – to commit to action as we together move to create the more equitable and just community: the beloved community that we know that we can be.” – President Brian Bruess ’90, introducing the teach-in

“In Jesus, what Thurman [theologian Howard Thurman] demonstrates so clearly is that we have a legacy of strength and integrity in the face of violent opposition. Martin Luther King picks up on this when he says that nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. So what I’m saying is that both Thurman and King, when they look at the world around them, and when they look at the experiences of Jesus, recognize that deep fear can only be rooted out by a deeper resolve. They make it clear to us that we’ve got to believe in something strong and lasting. We’ve got to see our lives as part of the ongoing work of the God of life and/or a universe that bends towards justice. And here at St. Norbert this is very much in line with our mission and identity as a Catholic college. Because that’s the first principle of Catholic social teaching that comes to us from Gaudium et Spes (that was released in 1965 following Vatican II), that there is a sacred worth to every person because of the life and dignity of the human person. That within each of us, is the image of God that cannot be stripped, though it can be oppressed. – Derek Elkins (Emmaus Center) on “Before Martin, Howard: A Revolutionary Interpretation of Jesus”

Corey Ciesielczyk“[Following the death of George Floyd], this wonderful thing on our campus happened. We started a coalition of faculty and staff of color. We’ve been each other’s support, mentors, leaders. … This is a path, a journey. … We need your help. We cannot be silent. We have to work to provide an equitable and diverse and inclusive campus for everyone. … We have the ability on campus to be a leader in our area, in our community and nationally. We have to be the leaders of change.” – Corey Ciesielczyk (Academic Support Services) on “Continuing the Conversation: Peaceful BLM/BSU protest at SNC”

“We’ve so anaesthetised King, we’ve so Disney-fied King, that we’ve reduced him to water. … King might as well be Barney the purple dinosaur, just giving everybody hugs, right? ‘I love you, you love me.’ And that’s inaccurate. … What we do with the King who is totally, you know, deprived of any actual radicalization, context, history, Black liberation, etc., is it’s easy to use him against Black people. I’ve had this done to me many times in my career: ‘You’re the real racist. King would be so ashamed of you because his message was, love everyone’ – which was not his message. He also was scathingly critical of white moderates. … We talk about the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and we reduce [King] to a soundbite, but in that speech he is going in on white Southern state governments. He is embarrassing them to the country, right? … How mortified I would be, even posthumously, if, for all the efforts I’ve made in my life to be loud about things, [then] once I was shot down, I was remembered for the nicest thing I ever said about white people. That’s basically what we’ve done to King.

“If we actually had fealty to King then it would be a day to critique capitalism, to critique U.S. militarism … . True to form, King would say, what is going to cost you on this day, what are you going to give up? … It’s not a day of charity. … I think he would use the day as a measuring stick, right? Where are we now, where were we 10 years ago? It’s not really that much of a happy ending where we are now. … I think he’d be very critical of how his holiday was observed.” – Saida Grundy, assistant professor of sociology, African-American studies, and women’s and gender studies at Boston University on “The Three-Dimensional King: The Memory, the Man and the Movement”

“Can we change our behavior? Yes. How do we do that? It takes effort, remembering that who we are is a reflection of our environment, our socialization and our attitudes. We’re at the right time and place to make this change. St. Norbert being a healer and a peacemaker leads us to try to fix this, leads us to try to say, ‘We have these foundations that we can use.’ … It’s as simple as seeing everyone as created in the image of God. If you see dignity in every human being, you realize that we have to share that dignity with others.” – Angel Saavedra Cisneros (Political Science) on “We're Not There Yet”

“When we think about King’s notion of multiracial democracy, it commences not through a desire to follow a set of rules or a program. Instead, it commences through a desire to change one’s self. This means that the process will be truly messy and nonlinear. That it will be filled with moments of revelation and disappointment. That it will require rededication and inspiration. That it will take time. It will be a journey. …

“What, in our minds, constitutes the good life? Just take a moment to visualize it for yourselves. When you think about the property value of your home, the school district in which you are located, are these places where you also see Black people? If not, perhaps this brings us to the true tragedy of the American Dream. Our vision of the good life can functionally work as a de facto segregated one. Our notion of the good life, in other words, does not require the presence of Black and brown people in order for it to function. So where do we go from here? How do we move toward racial justice in a world where so many of our basic ideas, perhaps even some of our own ideas, are captured by the racist imagination?” – Craig Ford (Theology & Religious Studies) on “Christianity and Racism in the Aftermath of the Trump Presidency”

“Some sights are so searing that you can’t unsee them. Reality hasn’t changed. We have. Which makes us want to change reality.” – The Rev. Jim Neilson ’88 (Art, Mission) on “A Constellation of Images”

Jennifer Hockenbery“[Martin Luther King Jr.] learned that you can’t just preach a great sermon that makes everybody feel good and happy and expect that to lead to friendship. But that you need conflict, that you need the voice of the oppressed to speak out and to speak in such a way that the oppressor has to hear. … I feel like I’ve gone to a lot of talks on how to teach my students how to listen and to be a good listener myself. … [Students] don’t need to learn how to listen, [they] need to learn how to speak and have so much confidence in their speech that they’re OK with the idea that their speech might cause conflict. … King was a pacifist. He really did not think that putting the sword against the throat of the oppressor was the plan. He had tremendous faith, theological faith that dialectic, that conversation, can work, can create friendship. … He had tremendous faith that nonviolence can work, and work better than violence. … He taught people how to put their bodies in the way of the oppressor so that their words and their songs and their cries could be heard. One of the things we need to do in the academy is teach people how to speak. We need to teach rhetoric, we need to teach good writing, good public speaking. We need to teach facts and history. And we need to teach courage to trust one’s own voice and to do that speaking. – Jennifer Hockenbery, dean of humanities, on “The Role of the Academy in Activism for Social Justice”

“It is not enough to feel for another if we do nothing about it. … It’s not enough to empathize with another. That doesn’t remove suffering, that doesn’t change anybody’s future suffering. … Strategic empathy is taking these feelings that we’re having, knowing what those feelings are, for our students or for others, and then channeling them into actions that can benefit the people we’re feeling for.” – Raquel Lopez (Psychology) on “Race, Reading and Empathy”

“We have to review books to make sure they’re culturally engaging and appropriate. You want to look at how BIPOC folks are depicted. Are they depicted in active roles? That’s important. When you pick up books about women, how are they depicted? Are they in active or passive roles? You have to look at that. You want to look at the back of the book. You want to look at the author … . How can you find content that lets you know that they are actually experts in what they’re talking about?” – Bola Delano-Oriaran (Education) on children’s books during the Lopez session on “Race, Reading and Empathy”

“It isn’t all set in stone forever. … We can unlearn and relearn, which takes commitment and persistence.” – Kristin Vogel (Mulva Library) on “Learning and Unlearning and Relearning as Steps Forward”

Jan. 28, 2021