Maryville University recently hosted its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration with the theme “Leadership through the King Legacy.”
The program featured a panel of professionals who honor King’s life and legacy through their daily work toward social justice from the intersection of religion, civic engagement and education.
Turan Mullins, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, facilitated the discussion. Mullins opened the event with a reading from King’s “The Drum Major Instinct” speech, given in Atlanta in 1968 two months before his assassination. During the speech, King requests he be remembered as “a drum major for justice,” someone who spent his life serving others.
Inspired by those words, panel members shared how King has shaped their commitment to social justice.
“King teaches us that justice is really dynamic and there are so many oppressed groups,” said Art McCoy, superintendent of schools, Jennings School District. “It’s not okay to be inconsistent. You can’t be about social justice for one group and not about social justice for all groups. What affects one, affects us all.”
McCoy spoke about how Jennings School District supports students but also parents and families. The district operates two shelters, Hope House I and Hope House II, for students and families experiencing homelessness. They also host community cupboard food distributions twice a month for students and families who are food insecure.
In the face of challenges, McCoy said we must hold onto hope. “Hope is the superpower that lets you speak when someone says shut up, that makes you show up when you know you have enemies,” he said.
The panel also featured Adrian Bracy, CEO of YWCA Metro St. Louis, and Melissa Brickey, executive director of Diversity Awareness Partnership. Both women shared the work they are doing to eliminate racism and ensure diversity is respected and embraced. Their organizations host numerous programs throughout the year that provide education about diversity and inclusion for corporate companies, community organizations and families.
“We are responsible for calling out racism whenever we see it,” Brickey said. “That means all of the time, especially when we think the feedback won’t be well received. It’s going to be hard and we’re going to make mistakes. But never stop asking questions, recognizing privilege and listening more than you talk.”