The need for action from individuals in leadership positions was the primary topic of addressed in Associate Professor of History Konrad Hamilton’s keynote speech during Monday’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Convocation.
“So much has been made of Dr. King’s words on grassroots mass action that we can forget that he also expected much from leaders and officials. While each individual in a society has a role to play, those who are entrusted with special powers, knowledge and special opportunities have an even greater responsibility to act,” Hamilton said.
Acknowledging King’s efforts in the realm of grassroots movements, Hamilton changed his focus to commemorate the accomplishments of retiring Dean of the College Larry Breitborde in promoting diversity on campus.
“I could not let this event pass without some comment on the outstanding leadership of Dean Breitborde in regards to inclusion and diversity on this campus. Larry is that crucial mix of qualitative and quantitative action that Dr. King expected from people in positions of leadership,” Hamilton said.
According to Hamilton, Breitborde has been an integral part in increasing the amount of minority faculty and international and minority students and in implementing the diversity requirement in the curriculum, an initially controversial endeavor.
“For different and often conflicting reasons, few of us on the faculty wanted to talk about a diversity requirement,” Hamilton said.
However, the requirement has since become a welcome part of the curriculum, and many students take multiple diversity courses, according to Hamilton.
Hamilton also noted Breitborde’s involvement in the creation of the convocation, which began as an open faculty discussion in the second floor common room in Old Main and has since become a yearly college sponsored event.
“Today’s convocation is just one example of how Larry has so many times in his career taken something that grew organically out of the Knox faculty and student body and through administrative support allowed it to be expressed in a way that faculty and students would not have been able to do by ourselves,” Hamilton said.
The continued pursuit of a diversity of thought and background within the faculty and student body is an aspect of Knox that follows King’s goals.
“Our goal, Martin Luther King would say throughout his public career, is to create a beloved community. Dr. King knew that this would not be easy, as it would require both a qualitative change in ourselves and a quantitative change in our lives,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton noted that the lessons put forth during the civil rights movement are longstanding, and should not be seen solely in terms of their historical significance.
“The lessons learned during the civil rights years transcend the specific details of place and period. On this day, more than any other, it is the responsibility of all of us in this room to try and bridge the decades that separate King’s era from ours and to find the timeless values that are as meaningful in 2013 as they were when Dr. King lived,” Hamilton said.
The convocation was well attended by a mix of prospective students, parents, current students, faculty and members of the Galesburg community.
Other speeches included welcome addresses by President Teresa Amott and Breitborde, as well as poetry readings by Professor Fred Hord and junior Ajoura Renee Gwinn.