Jan. 20, 2022 — Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr. challenged NMH students to think about how they will live according to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., during a keynote address that was part of NMH’s week of activities commemorating the slain civil rights leader.
A prominent scholar, author, political commentator, and a professor at Princeton University, Glaude was introduced by recent alum and Princeton sophomore Tanéyah Jolly ’20.
“Professor Glaude is an American critic in the tradition of James Baldwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, confronting history and bringing our nation’s complexities, vulnerabilities, and hope into full view,” said Jolly, who, as a student here, was a member of the Student Diversity Committee, which, along with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, plans the school’s annual MLK Week events.
Speaking on Zoom to the entire student body, gathered in smaller groups across campus — including classrooms and Memorial Chapel — Glaude asserted that as Americans we must tell the truth about ourselves — both in examining our country’s history and in how we choose to celebrate King.
Gaude said, “People who are engaging right now, in real time, in dismantling the right to vote, quoted Dr. King all day yesterday, invoked his words as justification for their all out assault on democratic life in this country.”
He added, “The assault on the right to vote isn’t just simply an assault on Black and brown people. It is an assault on poor people. It’s an assault on young people. It’s an assault on the foundations of American democracy, using Dr. King to gaslight the country.”
“We are a racist country,” said Glaude. “To admit such a thing is not to condemn ourselves to eternal damnation. It is no different than admitting that we’re all sinners. To admit such a thing sets the stage for the possibility for a new imagining, a new nation, a new way of being in the world, short of this insidious idea that some people, because of the color of their skin, are better than others.”
Glaude also challenged his audience to tell the truth about racism in the “intimate spaces” of their lives. “In the segregated gaps of our daily living, we have to acknowledge the intimacy of our hatreds, the intimacy of our fears. People knew the folks who hurt Emmit Till. Just as people know the folks who stormed the capitol [on Jan. 6, 2021],” he said.
At this crossroads in history, Gaude said we must imagine ourselves not as a “white nation generous to others” but as a genuinely multiracial democracy.
He said, “We have to tell ourselves a different story about who we are and what we have done, not a story that affirms our inherent innocence or condemns us eternally to the gallows. But a story that reveals how all too human we actually are.”
He concluded by cautioning students to avoid succumbing to pessimism and urged them to respond with hope. “The question that you have to ask yourselves, what will you do? How will you live into Dr. King’s legacy? I can’t wait for us to talk about it.”
In addition to hearing from Glaude, this week students focused on King’s life and lessons and topics centered on civil rights and racism during several all-school meetings, a student Town Hall meeting, and smaller group sessions. All students read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail as homework and discussed it in class. The SDC hosted screenings of films centered around race, and this weekend, performing arts performances will round out MLK Week at NMH.