Nearly 1,500 people attended RIT’s annual Expressions of King’s Legacy celebration on Jan. 30 and heard keynote speaker Tavis Smiley talk about a Martin Luther King Jr. many may not have known.
Smiley recognized the artists and speakers who came before him in the celebration including Whitney Morrison, an Eastman School of Music student, and RIT students Michelle Sason, LaKeishia Brown and Alexis Harris, members of RIT’s Mental Graffiti. One of the highlights of the program was 11-year-old Curtis Babers, a fifth-grader from Houston and winner of a regional oratory competition.
Calling King a great American, Smiley said that most people have an image of King as a benevolent dreamer and advocate for civil rights. He also saw King as a visionary whose emphasis on racism, poverty and militarism are as relevant today as they were in the 1960s.
“Whether we agree or not, the future of the democracy is linked to how seriously we take the legacy of Dr. King,” Smiley said in his address. The NPR talk show host, author and an advocate for racial and social equity, Smiley quoted King as someone who believed in justice for all and service to others.
“I think having Tavis visit our RIT community and connect with our local Rochester community over prevalent issues of today (compared with issues in our nation’s past), provides a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect, recalibrate ourselves, revitalize our weary souls from past fights, and recommit ourselves to the important issues of today that will undoubtedly impact our tomorrow,” said Kevin McDonald, RIT Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, a key sponsor.
This event marks the 32nd Expressions event presented at RIT and continues a tradition of recognizing King’s influence with music, dance and oratory.