Each year, the Claremont University Consortium hosts an annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture and Dinner. From members of the Black Panther Party to artists from RISE Arts Collective, the Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) presents to the seven colleges important contemporary black leaders to remember and reflect on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. This year, on Thursday Jan. 29, the OBSA brought Dr. Marc Lamont Hill to Scripps College’s Garrison Theater to present the keynote address “Youth Activism in Post-Ferguson America.”
Amy Marcus-Newhall, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty of Scripps College, initiated the Commemorative Lecture by welcoming Dr. Hill to campus. Denise Hayes, Vice President for Student Affairs at the Claremont University Consortium, followed by introducing Dr. Hill and his many accomplishments as an award-winning journalist, an African American Studies professor at Morehouse College, and a renowned activist with three published books, three edited books, two manuscripts in the works and the classification of “one of the leading intellectual voices in the country.”
Dr. Hill began his speech with some humor, but eventually settled in to discuss Michael Brown, Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK), and how Obama-era America is not post racial. “Obama’s presidency in the White House allows us to kind of obscure the messages of Ferguson, because we can still hold onto the idea that America has the capacity to be good on the racial front, that America has the capacity to usher in a new moment, that a black guy can be voted president not once but twice,” Hill said. “It suggests that we live in a country that doesn’t just grow old but also grows up. Until you keep going, until you keep digging, until you keep searching, until you continue to rummage through history and deepen your analysis, you realize that we have not moved into a new moment purely because we have a black body serving as the Business Manager for the same capitalist, white supremacist, homophobic [corporation].”
He continued to explain how activists should unite across movements to combat the injustice they’re all working against separately. “There’s a connection,” Hill said. “We have to make these connections. It makes us stronger, it makes us smarter, it makes us better, but it also gets the work done.” Connecting this idea back to Martin Luther King, Jr., “King met with anti-war activists, [...] Chicano activists, [...] sanitation workers in Chicago, [...] negro preachers,” Hill said. “He listened to them. [...] He understood that a movement was only as good as the people in it, and the movements to which it was connected.”
Hill also talked about the role of the young in creating social change. “That was King’s legacy: to get us to listen to each other, but also to get us to listen to young people,” Hill said. “Revolutions ain’t led by old folk. They’re led by young people who have a vision and a passion and the energy to make this thing different.” Offering advice for youth activists, Hill said, “But the young folk have to remember that you can’t wait for permission to take this thing over. Y’all gotta take this thing. That’s what we saw in Ferguson.
This was a movement lead by young people that said ‘we want something different.’”
Hill ended his speech by discussing the loneliness of working as an organizer, connecting that loneliness to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy and quoting the famous rapper Drake. “The legacy of King is to say ‘I don’t care about community,’ ‘I don’t care about consensus’ when it comes to the truth,” Hill said. “My only allegiance is to the truth. My only allegiance is to justice. My only allegiance is to the people. I don’t need nobody else, ‘cause as a great philosopher once said, ‘the homie said, ‘Hov, there ain’t many of us.’” This incited the audience to a standing ovation for Dr. Hill, and after the roaring calmed, the speaker took a few quick questions from the audience before he had to rush to catch his plane.
One student asked Dr. Hill “How can I become a leader and step up in my community?” To this, Hill responded that one should organize and find something to work toward, even if one isn’t in the front of the movement, and even if what they’re doing seems small. “Leadership means wrestling with the self: How do I find some sense of advancement and progress of the self?” Hill said. “This right here doesn’t matter if we leave here and do nothing. [...] The biggest problem in the world today is that there are too many people who don’t do anything.” Hill continued to advise future leaders to practice self-care. “This work is so killing, if you allow it to be,” Hill said. “But we can’t. The victory isn’t in a conviction. The victory is in the work itself, and the joy comes in struggling together. [...] Love yourselves. There’s nothing more revolutionary.”
After the event concluded, a handful of Scripps students gathered in the living room of the Scripps Community of Resources and Empowerment (S.C.O.R.E.) building to “debrief.” Some students found Dr. Hill’s humor heartening: “He tied together a lot of things that I have thought about, and I’m sure a lot of other people have thought about, and he talked about the sort of work that needs to be done with a really great and engaging sense of humor,” said Jessica Ng (‘15). “I found it really inspiring, especially that you can continue to do work against oppression and still laugh.” Other students felt relieved by Dr. Hill’s message of unification: “It made me feel very energized about activism,” said Anna Cechony (‘17). “It reminded me that I don’t have to cure racism, sexism, ableism, cissexism and all the other ‘isms’ all by myself or all at once.”
Some members of Claremont faculty, staff and administration also enjoyed the event. “I thought Dr. Hill’s remarks were electric last night,” said Sam Haynes, the Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Activities at Scripps College, on Friday morning. “He is truly a speaker who connects and resonates very well with college students and young people across the country. His message of getting involved and not being afraid to do it alone spoke to all emerging student leaders no matter what one’s call might be.”
Haynes, as a representative on the planning committee for the event, also expressed relief that the event went well. “I was particularly concerned about the lecture being something Scripps students could relate to, and based on the high numbers of Scripps students in attendance last night, my concerns were put to ease. Dr. Hill was a great pick for this year’s MLK Commemorative Lecture.” He attributed this success to the help he received from other Claremont representatives and offices: “I must note, when it all came together, I share in the success of [the] lecture with the MLK Committee, the Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA), and the Scripps community.”
If you would like the transcript or the recording of this event, please contact Jasmine Russell at JRussell3819@scrippscollege.edu.