Georgetown's King Celebration Anything But

By William Godwin
For the past five years, University President John J. DeGioia and his staff have dutifully cultivated programs that reflect the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. I am grateful for their efforts, and cheer them on for their work to unite the Georgetown and Washington, D.C. communities in the spirit of Dr. King. But that spirit was absent during this year’s Legacy of a Dream ceremony at the Kennedy Center. There was the usual talk of racial justice and inclusiveness, but as a student member of the GU MLK Coordinating Committee, which planned the event, I observed racial exclusivity and a lack of diversity at the Kennedy Center. It’s time for Georgetown to put its rhetoric into action.
At each year’s event, an elaborate reception is held preceding the performance. Among those attending, one typically finds members of the Washington elite, honorees and Georgetown’s distinguished alumni, faculty and staff. As an active member of the MLK Jr. Coordinating Committee, all of whose student members were black, I was surprised to find that no student members of that committee were initially invited to the VIP reception. Only later were two student committee members were added to the list of attendees. I went as their guest.
However, upon entering the VIP reception, I was flabbergasted to find the room flanked with non-black Georgetown students (whom I do respect) who had nothing to do with the planning of — and were not participating in — the day’s event. Except for me and the two other members of the coordinating committee, not one of the students attending was black or a member of the committee. All of the committee’s other student workers were black, and none of them received similar invitations. This tells me that Georgetown’s black students are good enough to sacrifice their time and energy to make an event happen, but not good enough to press flesh and interact with VIPs at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
The presentation of awards to the first ladies of Rwanda, Ethiopia and Zambia — representatives of the African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS — was equally exclusive and not representative of the racial and cultural diversity that Georgetown strives for. Georgetown has students of African heritage and a student group supporting their cause — the African Society of Georgetown. Would it not have been appropriate to reach out to some of these students and organizations to actually present the gifts to these African first ladies? Instead, Georgetown was represented in this ceremony by three white students. Is that Georgetown? Does that represent diversity and inclusion? Is this how we want to be known?
I move on to the general tastelessness of the performance itself. While several members of the crowd cried, “Shame to Georgetown,” in reference to the presentation of the Legacy of a Dream Award to Azeb Mesfin, the first lady of Ethiopia, for human rights abuses committed in her country, I found shame in the inappropriateness, irreverence and downright emptiness of Brian McKnight’s performance. As he physically grinded, with a guitarist looking as though he were having a seizure, moving from one irrelevant love song — that is, eros, not agape — to another, McKnight neither sang nor said anything of substance about the man and the movement.
If we aren’t careful, this venerable annual event will become nothing more than a popular concert disconnected from the values, problems and goals that King made his life’s work. Beyond the race of the performer, the individual’s substance is absolutely critical. Would President DeGioia, and other university officials have invited Brian McKnight if King were still alive and being honored on his 78th birthday? We could have just invited Beyonce if securing a popular black singer were our highest aim. I could not help but think that if actual committee members were involved in the selection process, a more appropriate and fitting performer would have been selected.
It is not enough to talk about diversity. Beyond inviting performers with substance and relevance, we must do more to include all students in our programming, especially when we’re trying to bring the community together and live the dream that King fought and died for.

William Godwin is a junior in the College, and a member of the Georgetown MLK Coordinating Committee.

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at12:08 AM

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