Buffalo shooting looms over Martin Luther King III appearance at Dartmouth Social Justice Awards

  • Martin Luther King III, speaks during a news conference in Washington, Monday, Jan. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) ap — Jose Luis Magana

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 5/24/2022 10:23:41 PM
Modified: 5/24/2022 10:23:41 PM

HANOVER — Martin Luther King III advocated for voting rights and nonviolent activism during his speech Monday night at Dartmouth College, even as the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., weighed heavily on his and other speakers’ minds.

“This evening, I hope we are able to connect in a positive way,” King said. “Because it feels like something my father used to say, that somehow we must ‘hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.’ ”

The speech, which was the keynote for Dartmouth’s 2022 Social Justice Awards, came 60 years to the day after King’s father, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., also spoke at Dartmouth. Back in 1962, King Jr. addressed an overflow crowd at 105 Dartmouth Hall about the future of race relations in America and the importance of nonviolent resistance to unjust, discriminatory laws.

Both Dartmouth President Philip J. Hanlon and Shontay Delalue, the college’s senior vice president and diversity officer, raised the May 14 Buffalo tragedy — in which 10 people were killed and three wounded at a grocery store in a Black neighborhood, with the suspected gunman an 18-year-old self-described white supremacist — when introducing King before a crowd of 400 at Spaulding Auditorium. Another 200 people watched via livestream.

“This level of hate, which persists in our nation despite decades of effort, can cause us to lose hope in the promise of equality and justice, for which Martin Luther King, Jr., began his historic fight and to which our distinguished speaker has dedicated his life’s work,” Hanlon said. “But losing hope is not an option.”

During his speech at Dartmouth on Monday, King emphasized the importance of turning out for the midterms to elect officials who oppose voting restrictions that some states have enacted. Voting has become harder in recent years, King argued, and we should support new voting rights legislation stalled in Congress.

“Dad used to say, ‘A voteless people is a powerless people,’ and one of the most important steps we can take is to the ballot box,” King said.

He also suggested voting with smartphones, which are already used for banking and paying bills, as a way to boost participation.

King is the oldest living child of King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. A civil and human rights activist, he serves on the board of The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta; founded the Atlanta-based nonprofit Realizing the Dream Inc. and helps lead the Drum Major Institute, a New York City-based nonprofit progressive think tank and community action group.

Later in his speech, King said how nonviolence is the key to disarming opponents and compelling reforms. Quoting his father, who promoted nonviolent protests during the civil rights era, King said that if we don’t learn nonviolence, “we will face nonexistence.”

“Please accept the challenge of becoming a peacemaker. Do whatever you can to prevent violence and create a nonviolent society,” King said, adding: “There is no country on Earth that needs more healers and peacemakers.”

Dale Chesson, from Dartmouth’s class of 2023, called King’s speech “awesome.” He appreciated King’s calls for positive social progress, even in difficult times.

Chesson echoed King’s point about most Black Lives Matter protests being nonviolent.

“I definitely think that’s the way to go,” he said.

Francine A’ness, of Thetford, found King’s speech “uplifting.” A’ness liked how King talked about making change at whatever scale and with whatever resources you have at hand.

“We can all be doing something,” she said, “and that gave me hope.”

After King’s speech and discussion, Dartmouth presented its 2022 Social Justice Awards, now in their 20th year.

The recipients are:

■Dr. Anais Ovalle, for emerging leadership. Ovalle completed the Brown Advocates for Social Change and Equity fellowship and later joined The Dartmouth Institute’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Action Team.

■Dr. Ruth Morgan, for ongoing commitment. Morgan works with underserved communities and is the medical director of Project H.E.A.L.T.H. (Homeless Engagement Addressing Limitations to Healthcare) in San Antonio, Texas.

■Craig Sutton, for ongoing commitment. Sutton is a math professor at Dartmouth who serves as the director of E.E. Just Program, which works to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups pursuing degrees and careers in STEM fields.

■María Clara de Greiff, the Holly Fell Sateia Award. An award-winning journalist, De Greiff is a live-in adviser and teacher at La Casa, the Spanish and Portuguese department’s living and learning community. She co-founded a fund to support migrant workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is working on a book about migrant workers at Upper Valley dairy farms.

■Dartmouth Black Student-Athlete Alliance, for student organization. This group helps build community, professional development and alumni connections for Black student athletes.

During the award ceremony, speakers remembered Holly Fell Sateia, who died earlier this year and for whom one of the awards is named. Sateia worked at Dartmouth for 37 years and was the college’s first vice president for institutional diversity and equity.

In brief remarks, Vice President for Alumni Relations Cheryl Bascomb described Sateia as a forward-thinking administrator who was committed to making Dartmouth open to all.

“She did social justice at scale,” Bascomb said. “How? She taught us all to do the work.”

Monday’s program also came just days before Dartmouth celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association. BADA’s 50th reunion events start on Friday and continue through the weekend.

Matt Golec can be reached at mattgolec@gmail.com.

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