President David Wippman sent the following message to the Hamilton community today in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dear Members of the Hamilton Community,
Today marks the 35th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday. Recent events show we have a long way to go to achieve the just and equitable society Dr. King envisioned.
In August 1963, Dr. King delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. The occasion was the 100th anniversary of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States. Some 250,000 people converged on the nation’s capital as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Partly to avoid any suggestion of a threat to Congress, organizers shifted the gathering site from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial. The contrast to the recent violent and seditious assault on the halls of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives could hardly be more stark.
In his speech, which I have listened to many times, Dr. King reminded Americans of the need for immediate change — “the fierce urgency of now” — and offered an inspirational vision of a country that could finally “live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
King hoped to “speed up that day” when everyone in the United States would “be able to join hands and sing . . . ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” The 1963 March on Washington and Dr. King’s extraordinary courage and leadership helped galvanize the civil rights movement and passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But decades later, we are far from realizing “that day” King envisioned.
That is why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just a holiday, but a call to action, an urgent call to eradicate systemic racism whenever and wherever we encounter it, whether it be violence against Black men and women at the hands of police officers, a denial of equal opportunity, or the more subtle indignities directed at underrepresented populations.
The first step involves recognizing that racism and inequity exist in our society, in our communities, and on our campus, and then taking action to further the antiracism work already being done by many students, faculty, staff, and alumni. This morning, as part of a new professional development program titled The Hamilton Academy, we offered employees a virtual workshop on how to safely interrupt interpersonal racist behaviors, the first in a series on building belonging on campus. In the next week or two, the Advisory Council will share its ideas for enhancing diversity, equity, and inclusion at the College and seek your feedback. I hope you will take the time to offer your reactions and suggestions.
We have done a lot to make diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities at Hamilton. But, given “the fierce urgency of now,” we have much more to do.