by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
For the first time in Providence College’s history, a spring academic convocation took place on Thursday, January 18, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter, Bernice King, addressed the campus community. The convocation is part of a whole week of events that honor and celebrate Dr. King and all of his work.
This April will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, and will also mark the 50th anniversary of the College’s MLK Scholarship.
According to Ralph Tavares, assistant dean and the director of multicultural student success, after Dr. King’s assassination, three professors at the College were deeply affected by his loss, and fundraised across campus to raise funding to create the scholarship. Fr. Robert Morris, who lived in the priory at the time, matched all the funds the professors raised.
“Through their fundraising efforts, 11 African American men were able to come to PC that fall,” said Tavares. Today, there are 105 scholarship recipients enrolled at the school, and an alumni base that stretches over 600.”
According to the College’s website, the full tuition scholarship “assists undergraduate AHANA [African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American] students and others who demonstrate a desire and ability to contribute to Providence College’s diversity.”
This year for the first time ever, the College will be presenting the MLK Vision award to honor the three professors (Dr. Francis MacKay, Dr. René Fortin and Dr. Mark Rerick) and Rev. Morris.
Prior to Bernice King’s address, the College celebrated Dr. King through a variety of events. The week kicked off on MLK day, where students from local middle schools and high schools were invited to the College to participate in storytelling activities that honored Dr. King’s vision.
On Tuesday, a student celebration took place in ’64 Hall entitled “Strength of Our Roots,” where different cultures represented at the College were showcased.
Sara Jean François ’19 explained the night went well, especially the portion of the fashion show. “You could really feel the energy of the crowd,” she said, and applauded Phionna Claude ‘18 and Kiana Michels ’18 for their wonderful job MC-ing the show. She also noted the power of a poem written by Estarlyn Hiraldo ’21, and explained it was very relatable to her and likely several others in the crowd.
“I loved seeing students being themselves,” said Tavares when asked about the event. He explained that wearing traditional clothing, sharing food and reading spoken poetry can be very intimate, and he was proud of students for sharing. “I felt so much pride,” he said. “It felt like a homecoming to me, because that’s what I did as a student.”
Wednesday, the MLK Vigil took place in the St. Dominic Chapel. This candlelit tradition has been occurring for years, where Dr. King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech was read for all to hear. “For me, the vigil is always moving, from it being in the chapel to so many different faces being in that dimelit room, it is a moving experience and a time to reflect,” said Jean-François. “I’d encourage anyone to go and listen and experience that beloved community.”
Tavares expressed that he felt students returned to campus this fall “splinted and frustrated” after the Princeton Review article dubbed PC as an institution with little race or class interaction, and was glad this week could bring the College together. Plus, he was grateful that so many offices could come together to collaborate and plan for the week. “This took a lot of people and a lot of effort,” he said.
Jean-François explained that she is thankful for the work that went into this week. “I thank Dean Tavares and his team, without them I don’t think this would have ever came about and I have much love and respect for them,” she said. “I hope this becomes a tradition here at PC for many years to come.”
Bernice King’s speech took place today in Peterson. A secondary article regarding her address will be available on The Cowl’s website this Friday.
“I was so excited, like telling my family about it excited,” said Jean-François when asked how she felt when she learned Bernice King would be speaking at PC. She explained that not only is this a big deal due to her connection to MLK, but also due to the strength and courage within her. “I think having Bernice King come to PC shows a very intentional look at Dr. King not just as a legacy or a historical figure, but as a man, and that is a beautiful thing that I don’t think many people on this campus have stopped to think about.”
This Friday, at three in the afternoon, the Humanities Forum will also celebrate Dr. King, and will discuss how to make his dream a “present day reality.”