Speaker encourages ‘anti-racism’ at SU’s 35th MLK celebration

Speaker carries on MLK's spirit at 2020 celebration

The annual Carrier Dome event and dinner features performances and keynote speaker the Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Published: January 26, 2020 | Updated: January 29th, 2020 at 10:28 pm
35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Celebration
The Rev. Raphael Warnock motivates the crowd at Syracuse University's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Sunday in the Carrier Dome.

As the Rev. Raphael Warnock looked across the Carrier Dome and addressed the crowd in front of him, he thought back to Dr. Martin Luther King. Warnock, a senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the same church King served in the 1960s, explained that the country was in the midst of a critical moment.

“What would he say?” Warnock said.

Warnock served as the keynote speaker of the 35th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Sunday night in the Carrier Dome. The event began with a dinner followed by an intermission where a speech from Dr. King visiting Syracuse in 1965 was played as the audience moved to their seats to get ready for the rest of the celebration. Once the speech concluded and the audience was settled, a promotional video celebrating SU’s 150th anniversary was played followed by a musical selection from the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble and SU’s 2020 MLK Community Choir.

SU alum and award-winning journalist, Iris St. Meran, served as the Master of Ceremonies and opened the evening admiring SU for hosting the “largest on-campus event to honor Dr. King.” The celebration also featured a performance by Dominique’s Dance Creations, composed of boys and girls in the Syracuse area. Later on, the five recipients of the 2020 Unsung Hero Awards, among them two SU students and a SUNY-ESF professor, were presented with their awards and certificates.

35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Celebration

Hendricks Chapel dean Brian Konko and SU junior Ashley Laird, both coordinators for this year's event, join in a song during the MLK Celebration.

35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Celebration

Local youth with Dominique's Dance Creation perform at Sunday's MLK Celebration.

Along with a few pieces by the choir, the Celebration was marked with a performance by Dominique’s Dance Creations, composed of boys and girls in the Syracuse area. Later on, the five recipients of the 2020 Unsung Hero Awards, among them two SU students and a SUNY-ESF professor, were presented with their awards and certificates.

Despite the positivity brought on by the presentation of the Unsung Hero Awards, the speakers couldn’t help but reference the racist and anti-Semitic incidents that occurred during the fall semester at SU. During his keynote speech, Warnock preached that there’s more to fighting racism than denouncing it.  “It’s not enough to not be racist. We have to be anti-racist,” Warnock said. “Stand up and say, “no, not again.”

Earlier this month, the chancellor had spelled out some of the policies being implemented as a result of the #NotAgainSU movement in his Winter Message. At Sunday’s event he remained positive.

“I am so grateful to so many who have come forward with courage,” SU Chancellor Kent Syverud said. “And with voice, and with action to express our values.”

For some students, coming together on Sunday represented a positive step forward in contrast to the events at SU last semester. Alexander Davis, an Arts and Sciences senior at Syracuse who was making his first visit to the celebration, believed that the event united both the city of Syracuse and SU communities.

Davis’ friend, Khenyan Wilcox, echoed his sentiments.

“There’s still places and settings for progress, where positive things happen,” Wilcox said. “Things may happen, life isn’t perfect, there’s always ups and downs, but programs that put on like this at our institution and other institutions across the country to celebrate a historical figure.

35th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Celebration
The Rev. Raphael Warnock shares his perspective as a senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta with those who attended Sunday's celebration.

Syracuse University alum Demetria Luces, whose daughter performed as part of Dominique’s Dance Creations, was similarly proud of the unity the communities showed on Sunday night. Luces appreciated how the layout of the celebration was different than past years’, bringing the program part closer and more personal than the previous iterations.

“I think it’s good to see everybody coming together and focusing on that,” Luces said. “Everyone coming together as one here.”

Warnock, who deemed Dr. King the greatest American the country has ever produced, echoed both the late reverend’s words and lines from the bible. His speech, which lasted nearly half an hour, touched on the fact that equality, while the goal oftentimes, has still yet to be realized, even at SU.

To further illustrate this argument, the Rev. Warnock used sports as an example pointing to examples of Serena and Venus Williams, Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan. “When the playing field is level and the rules are transparent and everybody has to follow them, we have a chance to succeed.”

And so, at the end of his speech, Warnock tried to answer the question that he posed earlier in the night. At the same university that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at nearly 55 years ago, Warnock pondered what the proper message to leave the audience was, what the proper way to honor Dr. King would be at the end of his daylong celebration.

“Stay together, stand together, pray together,” Warnock said. “We’ll get there together.”

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is a contributor to The NewsHouse.

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Avatar for Eric Black

is a photographer for The NewsHouse and studying at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

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is a newspaper and online journalism and political philosophy junior. He is a lead news producer for The NewsHouse. He is also in Army ROTC.