Advancing The Dream

Annual Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Berea College, January 16, 2017

Berea College staff, faculty and students organized a series of events in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, on Monday, January 16, 2017, including a convocation featuring Dr. Karsonya Whitehead, from Loyola University Maryland, as speaker. The day’s activities were co-sponsored by Office of the President, Berea College Music Program, Black Cultural Center, Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, Center for Excellence in Learning through Service (CELTS), Berea College Music Program, First Christian Church, Union Church, and Willis D. Weatherford Jr. Campus Christian Center.

Representatives from the College and the wider Berea community gathered at 9:30 a.m. at Union Church. As people entered Union Church during this time they were greeted with spirituals from the Black Music Ensemble. Following the songs were short speeches and greeting were presented by Nana Boetang (Master of Ceremony), Kent Gilbert (Lead Pastor, Union Church), Osvaldo Flores (Berea College Student Government Association President), Steven Connelly (Mayor, City of Berea), and President Lyle Roelofs (Berea College). The messages incorporated equality, the history of Berea, where we were then, where we are going now, and the reason of why we march.

At 10:00 a.m., members of the College’s Black Music Ensemble and community led a march from Union Church to First Christian Church. Marching along the way, students, faculty, staff, and community members sang spirituals focused on the message of freedom and equality. After arriving at First Christian Church, participants enjoyed light refreshments and a musical selection from the Black Musical Ensemble.

The Keynote Performance at 10:30 a.m. featured Mitzi Sinnott, of ALLHERETOGETHERPRODUCTIONS in “What’s Your Story?” a workshop meant to explore the cross-cultural, cross-class, cross-gender dynamic negotiations many routinely face. Sinnott’s performance included dialogue and personifications to capture her story of growing up in a period of segregation. Sinnott described experiences that she faced as a person of mixed race (her mother was Caucasian and her father was African American) and not having her father present in her life. By being able to tell her story and her growth from it, Sinnott was able to connect to the audience and allow for some people to tell their story. The workshop included identifying a challenge that one has faced, a positive aspect of that challenge, and how going through that challenge could be helpful in the world today. The interactive exercise helped people to find their own story.

Sinnott, a resident of West Virginia who was raised in Southern Ohio and Kentucky, is a performing artist and educator. Her artistic career began in New York City, where she established one of Manhattan’s leading after-school arts programs as the Director of the School of the Future Extended Day Program. Sinnott has facilitated staff development workshops with Development Without Limits and The After School Corporation Director’s Institute at Columbia University. Her internationally acclaimed solo show “SNAPSHOT: a true story of love interrupted by invasion” has played on three continents, on the campus of American universities, and is having its television debut on PBS stations across the nation.

Sinnott received the Best Actress Nomination from the STAGE at Edinburgh Fringe Festival for her performance in SNAPSHOT. She is the recipient of the Brooklyn Arts Council Individual Artist Grant, the Kentucky Foundation for Women’s Art Meets Activism Grant, and the 2015 Kentucky State Arts Roster Honoree.
Sinnott holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Communications from The Ohio State University, and has trained with New York companies such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the T. Schreiber Studio, and the MTB Studio.

At 3:00 p.m., Dr. Karsonya Whitehead presented “From Black Power to Black Lives Matter, to Now…” at Phelps Stokes Chapel. Whitehead’s presentation involved discussing the journey of African Americans (minority groups) and how there is still a need for justice and equality. She expressed her concern about the need for advocacy and how she believes that most of the weight will lie heavily on the upcoming generation. There was a sense of building a community to do the right thing and not being silent. However, Dr. Whitehead also discussed that as advocates you also have to know your battles because sometimes it is best to leave it be. Dr. Whitehead also discussed the upcoming inauguration stating that advocacy still starts at the bottom no matter who the president may be and that citizens should be active and willing to want to make a change.

Following the Convocation, a reception with Dr. Whitehead was held at the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education Gallery to allow participants to have a conversation with her.

The MLK Day activities concluded at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 17, when Ben Groth, from the Berea College Campus Christian Center and Kyle Brooks, from Vanderbilt University led a discussion titled “We’ve Come this Far by Faith: A Conversation on Race, Religion, and Remembrance.”