The first order of business at the MLK Evening of Reflection in George Mason University’s Hub Ballroom on Jan. 29, was the showing of a clip from “King in the Wilderness,” a documentary on the private life of Martin Luther King Jr.
The clip put forth the questions to be answered by the event’s speakers: How can we work together to create a more perfect world? And how can we humanize activism and our activist heroes?
The panel of speakers consisted of LaNitra Berger, senior director of the Office of Fellowships in Mason’s Honors College; Al Fuertes, associate professor Mason’s School of Integrative Studies; and Fe Miranda, a sophomore majoring in music.
“May the flame of compassion, social justice, and positive peace continue to glow inside each one of us,” Fuertes said.
Fuertes recalled his childhood in the Philippines under martial law where he learned traits from his poverty-stricken community, such as “altruism, peace activism, the courage to mobilize ordinary citizens, and the desire to help raise the level of social consciousness of social, economic, and political realities.”
He said King’s speeches continue to inspire and challenge him to live his life to the fullest and use his privilege to be part of the solution. Two of King’s quotes particularly stand out for him, he said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (“Loving Your Enemies” sermon, 1957)
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” (“Where Do We Go From Here?” speech, 1967)
Fe Miranda, LGBTQ+ Pride Alliance secretary, called for activists to practice self-care and care for others.
“It’s our jobs as advocates to encourage and empower the groups we fight for and the people we fight for to ensure long-lasting change,” Miranda said.
“Advocacy can be a quiet thing.” Miranda said. “You don’t have to be the face of a movement to make change happen. People like me and people like you can use our time and talents in a variety of ways to give power to those that don’t have the opportunity or platform to make their voices heard.”
Miranda described how activists should work together like a choir. A choir, they explained, could hold one note forever because when one person needs to breathe, another voice fills the sound; when many voices sing together, they allow each other to breathe without losing their strength.
“Everyday heroism is alive and well,” Berger said. “If you are focused on the little things that you can do every day to make someone’s life better, those small things add up and make a big difference.”
Fuertes concluded, “Let’s be a hero to one another.”
These awards were presented to those engaged in activism to improve our community:
Spirit of King Award (student): Shelby Adams, sophomore, Criminology, Law and Society.
Spirit of King Award (staff): Philip Wilkerson III, industry advisor, Career Services.
Spirit of King Award (faculty): Presented to a teaching faculty member who has made an exceptional contribution to the development of an inclusive learning environment through his/her teaching, research, or work that involves advocacy for equality and social justice. Winner: Mark Hopson, associate professor, Communication.
Resounding Voice Award: Presented to a student who has used their voice to advocate for marginalized identities and speak out against injustice near and abroad. Winner: Janell Armstead, senior, tourism and events management.
Bayard Rustin Advocacy Award: Solomon Oyombo, junior, Communication.
Emerging Alumni Award: Presented to an alumna or alumnus of George Mason University who embodies the Spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Winner: Damari Nelson, BA Global Affairs ’19.
Superior Service Award: George Mason NAACP
Yara Mowafy Award: Chathurya Anuga, junior, Biology.