Activist and Educator: ‘Dr. King’s Values are Our Values’
As part of the culminating event of the University’s MLK Celebration, Dr. Yohuru Williams spoke to members of the University community, encouraging them to live by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words, urging them to connect his vision with the University’s mission.
February 12, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Dr. Yohuru Williams is passionate about celebrating and honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. An activist, author, and academic, Dr. Williams hopes members of the University community – and individuals across the nation – honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., not just on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but every day.
Dr. Williams, who presented a virtual lecture during the Spring 2021 semester, recently visited campus as the distinguished speaker for the culminating event of the University’s weeklong MLK Celebration. During his keynote address, Dr. Williams compared Dr. King’s words and teachings to the University’s mission, which he says correlates with many of the topics Dr. King discussed throughout his lifetime.
“Dr. King’s values are our values,” said Dr. Williams, an author whose scholarly work has appeared in numerous publications, such as the Journal of Civil and Human Rights. “When you talk about issues of racial or social justice, such as LGBTQ+ issues or environmental justice, you’re not deviating from the mission of the University. You’re actually helping the University live its mission.”
‘Dr. King shined a light on injustices’
Dr. Williams, who was born in Bridgeport, is a distinguished university chair and professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He also serves as the founding director of St. Thomas’s Racial Justice Initiative, which focuses on supporting racial justice education, research, fostering community partnerships, and encouraging dialogue.
While discussing the “triplets” of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism that Dr. King warned about, Dr. Williams explained that these issues “continue to color our contemporary experience.” Reflecting on the critical role of education, Dr. Williams stressed the importance of “intelligence plus character,” and that a college degree should equate with growth. He told students that their time at the University is a “training ground” for the next phase of action they will take.
“Young people, we have a tendency to tell you that you stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “That is a lie. You do not stand on the shoulders of giants. You are the giants.”
Dr. Williams told the University community that Dr. King became the leader we venerate today, in part, because he embraced what it meant to be a giant. But, he reminded students that in order to be able to embrace what it means to be a giant, they must first learn from giants.
“MLK's work at the University of New Haven is focused on education,” said Ophelie Rowe-Allen, Ed.D., dean of students and co-chair of the University’s MLK Celebration Committee. “The role of education and equal access was Dr. King's focus during his fight for civil rights. Dr. King shined a light on injustices, changed hearts and minds, and inspired generations through education. I believe as a Charger Community we can do the same, step by step.”
‘Charger or challenger? I can’t tell the difference’
The event concluded with Dr. Williams’s address, in which he discussed the challenges still facing society and the importance of advocacy, social justice, and freedom. While acknowledging that “freedom is a constant struggle” that is achieved incrementally, he shared a message of hope and encouragement, leaving the University community with a charge and a challenge.
“There are so many issues plaguing our nation as a whole, such as poverty, injustice, violence, and indifference,” he said. “But the reality is, I can’t think of any better educational institution situated at this present moment to address these issues than the University of New Haven.
“You have the mission, you have the students, you have the faculty, you have the administration,” he continued. “Oh, and by the way, you’ve got this great synergy with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Let it not exist on a day where we simply celebrate those who are challenging us to live that mission. Let’s ingrain it so fully in the fabric of who we are that when people come up to a Charger, they say, ‘Charger or challenger? I can’t tell the difference.’”