Clarion MLK Day speakers make strong call for unity

Staff writer

The 10th annual Martin Luther King Jr. community breakfast in Clarion became a virtual event Jan. 17 due to the major snowstorm that socked the region Sunday night and Monday.

But that didn’t dim the observance, however, and this year’s theme of “The King Legacy: Becoming One” was marked with passion.

“On this day, all across the country we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Rogers Laugand III, director of multicultural affairs and diversity education at Clarion University. “As we celebrate this national holiday we are called by Dr. King’s legacy to continue to work together to realize his dream and to hold the nation to the true meaning of its creed that all people are created equal,” Laugand added.

“Dr. King and the other leaders in the civil rights movement helped bring about enormous change in America,” Laugand said. “Their work was not finished. As a country and as a people we need to continue the work to ensure equality, opportunity, and justice of all. We must embrace it. We cannot depend on others to do it.”

The keynote speaker was Denise Pearson, vice chancellor and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, like his predecessors, understood the role of education in a civilized and democratic society,” said Pearson. “He asserted that intelligence and character were the true goals of education,” she added.

Pearson also said that this remembrance of King presents an opportunity for State System universities to ensure their programs enhance “the development and education of all students regardless of the clothes they wear to school, how their lunch is paid for or their last name.”

She added that becoming one doesn’t mean relinquishing anyone’s individuality.

“It does require that you give your fellow man the same care and compassion you give yourself even during times of disagreement,” Pearson said. “Becoming one requires you look within and be honest about what you see. You may just be inspired to build on King’s legacy while creating your own”

Pearson said it took 15 years before Martin Luther King Day became a federal holiday, and she said she hopes it doesn’t take that long for Harriet Tubman’s face to grace the front of a $20 bill.

She also noted that while the nation observes Martin Luther King Day, Mississippi and Alabama honor Confederate leader Robert E. Lee on the day every year.

“That is unfortunate because the souls of these two men could not be more different,” she said. “We will not let this sad truth overshadow this day of remembrance and the ongoing quest for unity.”

“Look at the various entrenched positions against exposing students to new ideas and concepts like critical race theory,” Pearson said. “Some of the opposition is based on the lack of information or the adoption of calculated misinformation. One of the major purposes of higher education is to expand knowledge and develop critical thinking skills.”

“Dr. King was just like you and I,” said Ayanna Squair, a criminal justice administration major at Clarion University. “He felt strongly about his values and beliefs. He felt strongly about his purpose on what we are called to do. Today is not a day off. Today is a day not only to celebrate the life of Dr. King but to embrace his dream,” Squair said.

Squair encouraged her fellow students to enroll in classes that would teach them more about the African American culture and Asian or Hispanic heritage.

The annual Martin Luther King observance in Clarion is sponsored by Clarion University and organizations, charities, and churches in the Clarion Community.