Augsburg’s Hoversten Chapel was filled to capacity as Student Body President Duina Hernandez ’16 welcomed a mosaic of faces—students and community members—to the 29th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation. What followed was a harmonious fusion of rhythmic movements and layered voices that ascended to keynote speaker Chuck D of rap group Public Enemy. The author and political activist presented “Race, Rap, and Reality: Supporting Our Youth in the Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as They Face the Unique Challenges of Today.”
Mohamed Sallam, director of the Pan-Afrikan Center, provided an opportunity for students to imagine the event in hopes of advancing a contemporary understanding of King’s legacy of equality, service, and peace. Conversations that have continued since the convocation, Sallam said, reflect Augsburg’s celebration of diversity and commitment to speaking out against injustice.
“Our passionate students put on a wonderful event that has continued to spark discussions on campus about race and equality,” said Sallam, who has guided the center for 10 years. “They are continuing MLK’s work by educating themselves and doing what they can to influence the social and political climate in which we live. Chuck D inspired us all to be the change in our own neighborhoods, and we’ve heard and seen students and faculty working to do just that.”
Auggies lead the charge toward peace
The program occurred during a “difficult time in our nation,” Sallam said. In December, the United States marked 150 years since ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s 13th amendment, declaring slavery illegal. Yet national headlines about ingrained racism, Sallam said, signal the need for renewed discussion and engagement about our “unfinished work toward equality.”
“We’re facing major challenges and complexities in our day, particularly when it comes to policing in communities of color,” he added. “And because of Augsburg’s inclusive culture, I think it’s easy to feel like it can’t happen here. But the Jamar Clark shooting last year in Minneapolis showed us that we need to be a part of the broad social movement toward progress.”
The event wasn’t focused solely on the black or African-American experience, Sallam stressed. Students of many nations and races collaborated to ensure issues of injustice facing other countries and all people remain a part of the discourse.
“Our students are passionate about shining a light on those injustices throughout the world, and they are leading the charge toward peace,” he said.
During the program, students expressed their anger, pain, and hope through art—spoken word, dance, instrumental music. Sallam said his role is not to temper students’ enthusiasm, but to encourage them to direct their passion into education and thoughtful, appropriate discussion and action.
“Students can be very ambitious about what ought to happen, so I help them identify creative ways to engage and galvanize the community to be a more just place to live,” Sallam said. “I remind them that they are college students first, and that achieving in their field can advance the cause by putting them in a position to develop a network of educated, engaged people to create positive change in our world.”
The MLK Convocation is part of the Augsburg Convocation Series, an annual lineup of speakers who encourage the campus community to consider the power of vision in a world of tension.
Dimension 2, Goal 6, Strategy 6: Publicly advance core commitments.
—by Kate Elliott