On Feb. 12, Wesleyan welcomed civil rights activist, organizer, author, and educator Ruby Sales to deliver the annual 2021 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration. Sales is the founder and director of SpiritHouse Project, a national 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that uses the arts, research, education, action, and spirituality to bring diverse peoples together to work for racial, economic, and social justice. In the 1960s, Sales joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) at Tuskegee University and went to work as a student freedom fighter in Lowndes County, Alabama. “Not only do Black people survive, we also try and we thrive, because we were privileged to have 111 historically black colleges that produce Black doctors, Black lawyers, Black morticians—a Blackness that exists in every southern city in the United States—Birmingham; Washington D.C.; Charleston, South Carolina,” Sales said. “Yes, there was a plantation system in this, but there was also the magnificent work of the people who carved out a middle-class existence in a society that did not intend for us to survive.”
Alison Williams ’81, vice president for equity and inclusion and Title IX officer, welcomed the audience to the event. “I hope that by coming here today and participating, you’re not going to say, ‘Okay I did my part for MLK.’ No, this is a call for us all to get up and do work on ourselves, on our campus culture, and to become as inclusive and equitable as possible.”
Demetrius Colvin, director of Wesleyan’s Resource Center, kicked off the event with one of his favorite civil rights protest songs, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” by Sweet Honey in the Rock. The MLK commemoration was sponsored by The Resource Center, Office for Equity and Inclusion, Department of African American Studies and the Center for African American Studies, Shapiro Center for Writing, Fries Center for Global Studies, and the Wesleyan Library.
Colvin presented a slide show honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dachelle Washington ’22, a singer-songwriter from New York, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” also known as the Black National Anthem. “I’m a music major and a minor in African American studies so I’m really glad to be a part of this, because this kind of connects to everything that I do here on campus,” she said. “I first encountered the Black National Anthem at my predominantly white institution, which we all sang, but nobody really talked about the history of the song or that it even was the Black National Anthem. So I’m excited to sing it today and have it be a part of the mission of today’s program.”
Following Sales’ talk, Christian Denny ’22, a member of the student group Ujamaa, spoke about various Black History Month events occurring at Wesleyan throughout the month of February. Using the theme “Black Radical Imaginations,” the events not only honor the traditions of the past but “illuminate the ways Black people—artists, comedians, activists, etc.—find moments of liberation in their daily lives,” Denny said.