MLK Memorial Event focuses on finding beauty in difficult times

MLK Memorial Event focuses on finding beauty in difficult times

Published: March 30, 2023
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Dr. Nell Irvin Painter spoke at the event over Zoom.

The first time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made an appearance at Syracuse University was on July 15, 1965. He spoke in Sims Hall, the same place the African American Studies Department hosts the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Public Memorial Lecture every year since 1983.

The event is one of the oldest MLK memorials in the country. Each year, the department hosts a new speaker who chooses a topic surrounding race and relates their knowledge and experiences to it. For this year’s 40th anniversary event, Dr. Nell Irvin Painter was invited to speak about racial and gender identity and its role in American and Western history.

This year, the event is both in-person and hybrid, with Dr. Painter attending via Zoom. Department professors think it is important to have both options because it allows more people to listen and participate.

“Making the event hybrid this year is an interesting way to make it more accessible,” said Lauren Surovi, an assistant teaching professor of Italian. “I think this hybrid format will help bring everyone together.”

Painter is a renowned author, artist, historian and professor emeritus at Princeton University. She started her lecture by reading an excerpt from one of her upcoming books entitled “I Just Keep Talking,” which she said focuses on the event’s theme of reparations.

“I wish we had more solidarity, even if that makes me sound like a socialist,” said Painter. “My blackness celebrates itself through art, music, dance, painting, talking, writing.”

She spoke about how she lived through hard times of discrimination, but also how she and other African Americans around her coped with it and made something out of all the pain.

“Black history is full of pain, but it’s full of something more — creativity,” said Painter.

In her excerpt, she describes how her life story is not only about the wrongs done to African Americans through slavery, but also the violence and discrimination in post-slavery America, incurred upon them by white people.

“In my final analysis, my own personal sorrow for my country’s woes with race trace back less to slavery than to what came after in the decades of cruelty extending into my own life,” said Painter.

Following the reading and speech done by Painter, attendees on zoom and in-person were able to ask questions during a Q&A session hosted by Vlad Dima, the new Chair of the Department of African-American Studies.

This year’s speaker garnered lots of interest, with a fair turnout in-person and virtually that boasted students, faculty, staff and Syracuse community members in attendance.

“I’m here to learn more about Martin Luther King’s legacy and become more informed,” said Cora Mayer-Costa, a Freshman at Syracuse University.

Painter ended her speech with a note of encouragement on how people can make society better for everyone.

“Where we can make a difference and where our difference is appreciated is where we are,” said Painter. “The people we know, the students we touch, the communities we interact with, the books we write, the art we make. Each of us has a role and it’s like we’re grains of sand building a sand dune, and I’d rather concentrate on the grains of sand rather than trying to build the dune myself.”