Honoring MLK Not Just One Day, but Every Day: PC Celebrates Fourth Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation
by Sydney Olinger ’23
As we enter the beginning of Black History Month, it is important that we reflect on the works of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of the people who have made a difference in the fight for racial equality.
While the MLK Convocation at Providence College typically takes place over the span of five days, starting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this year will be a little different. Just as many other events on campus are now being held virtually, so, too, will this year’s MLK Convocation.
As the Convocation committee began the planning process for this year’s events, they recognized the need to hold everything virtually. Because of this, they decided to extend the celebration throughout the month of February, as it is also Black History Month. The committee felt this would be a great way to not only take advantage of the new virtual platform, but to also continuously remind the PC community of what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for throughout his life.
The MLK Convocation Week at PC was founded in 2018 by Ralph Tavares, former director of multicultural student success and assistant dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. As a PC student, Tavares was an MLK scholar, and once he began working at the College, he decided he wanted to do something special for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to show appreciation for the scholarship the school offers and in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the assasination of MLK, Jr.
According to Dr. Wanda Ingram, senior associate dean of undergraduate studies, Tavares’ nickname was “the mayor of Providence College,” due to the fact that he knew everyone on campus. This popularity worked to his benefit as he created a large and strong committee within three months and was able to successfully organize the first MLK Convocation Week in 2018. “I have to say, I’ve worked on a lot of committees in higher education, but I have never had so much fun and enjoyed working as I have with this Convocation committee,” said Ingram.
This year, all events will be virtual with the exception of the prayer vigil, which will be in-person and will take place in St. Dominic Chapel. The vigil celebrates and remembers the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and is the most solemn event of Convocation Week.
Nancy Kelley, senior executive assistant to the president, believes that though next year may be a different story in terms of COVID-19 guidelines, the virtual events may continue as a way of making the events more accessible to the greater community.
Since the College instituted the MLK Convocation, it has been fortunate enough to host notable keynote speakers each year. The first year saw Bernice King, renowned orator and daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. This year, with the help of committee members Tara Baxter and Deirdre Driscoll-Lemoine ’98G, the keynote speaker will be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Aside from his countless awards, his award-winning documentary, Kareem: Minority of One, displays his passion for racial equality and how he was able to overcome challenges as a Black man in his career.
Along with a keynote speaker, each year, an MLK Vision Award is awarded to a person whom the committee recognizes “as embodying all of the characteristics, meanings, values, and purposes of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Kelley.
There is a period of time before Convocation when people can nominate others who they believe deserve and qualify for the award. The interesting part about this award is that it is unlike most academic awards. The MLK Vision Award has been awarded to many people over the last four years, including faculty members, students, alumni, student organizations, and even people outside of the PC community.
The Convocation committee recognizes that there are numerous people who embody the role that Martin Luther King, Jr. played in our society, and believes the Vision Award should go to any and all who deserve it.
Every person that is a part of the Convocation committee, as well as all those in our Friar Family, plays an important role in making this month a time to remember one of the most influential historical figures and to reflect on the incredibly positive transformations he made in our society and the changes people continue to make in his memory.
For more information on the 2021 MLK Convocation Month and virtual events, visit https://college-events.providence.edu/mlk-convocation/.
That the Future May Learn From the Past: Students and Alumni Partake in Reflecting Forward
by Kyle Burgess ’21
This past weekend, the Providence College community had the chance to embrace multicultural and diverse backgrounds in the second-ever Reflecting Forward celebration.
Students, faculty, and alumni took part in three days of festivities, workshops, and other social events, which allowed them to mingle with fellow classmates as well as those from previous Friar generations.
Reflecting Forward began on Friday with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation in the Peterson Recreation Center.
The afternoon’s keynote speaker, Ndaba Mandela, is the grandson of the famous South African political activist and former president Nelson Mandela who helped bring an end to the rule of apartheid in the country.
Ndaba is the founder of the Africa Rising Foundation which is a non-profit organization committed to aiding in the development of the African continent, along with instilling cultural pride in younger generations of Africans.
The event also recognized the efforts of Dr. Terza Lima-Neves ’00, Jack Murphy ’20, and the Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) with the MLK vision award which honors those who exemplify the legacy of the late Dr. King.
Following the actual Convocation, organizations including the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs (BMSA) and Stopping Homophobia, Eliminating Prejudice, and Restoring Dignity (SHEPARD) hosted alumni receptions for former and current students to connect and exchange experiences.
Saturday morning included greetings from President Rev. Brian Shanley, O.P., and Reflecting Forward Co-Chairs Duane Bouligny ’94, Andre Owens ’85, and Monica Womack ’91 before a presentation from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (IDEI) about its mission.
Breakout sessions followed, including the second annual panel event Reflecting Forward: The Color of Excellence which detailed the stories of success from PC alumni during their time as students in Friartown and in the working world.
Participants then departed for McPhail’s or the Dunkin’ Donuts Center to watch the Providence Friars take on the Villanova Wildcats in an electric Big East matchup.
Afterwards, they reconvened in ’64 Hall for a night filled with dinner, dancing, and more panels from PC alumni who shared what their PC stories meant to them today. The Reflecting Forward Event concluded on Sunday with interfaith spiritual reflections and a gospel brunch.
For Friars young and old, Reflecting Forward provided them with the opportunity to share and learn from each other how their backgrounds have affected their time both at PC and beyond its gates.
“Reflecting Forward is an event that allows for the values of the college to be represented in the communion between people from all walks of life,” explained Sabrin Mohamednur ’20, vice president of BMSA. “It is a time for the Friar family, past and present, to celebrate the legacies started at this institution. This event allows members of the community to pay homage to the Friars from previous classes.”
For Ricardo Guzman ’20, president of SHEPARD, this event provides an opportunity for voices of current students to be heard by their classmates of all ages.
“Throughout my four years here, diversity, inclusion, and equity has been an important conversation among many groups, but SHEPARD has pushed to be included in those conversations. SHEPARD believes that it is important to create inclusive spaces for LGBTQ* people here on campus, understanding that it is a Catholic institution.“ Guzman added, “We hope that through this event we are able to continue to create more awareness and change at both a student level, and an institutional level by discussing some of the obstacles we have encountered and overcome.”
The success of the weekend’s events will no doubt lead to similar reflection events in the future.
Friars Got Talent: Student Performances Ring in MLK Celebrations
by Matthew Mazzella ’20
On Wednesday, January 22, Providence College continued its third annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Convocation celebrations in ’64 Hall with the Student Celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The event offered a talent show for students of all backgrounds to showcase their skills in celebration of Dr. King’s legacy. The event included food from across the world to help bring diversity into the event, as well as raffle prizes for spectators and a $500 prize awarded to Caylynn Maldonado ‘22 for her karate performance.
Nancy Kelley, senior executive assistant to the president, was a huge reason this event was made possible. She and her team have been working tirelessly to make this week as impactful as possible. Kelley shared her thoughts on the student celebration, saying, “The talent show is meant to capture different talents among students across campus as we want to showcase all students and the unique talents they have. There was a flyer in December promoting the event, and it asked all candidates to send in a video clip of their talent so they could see that it would be appropriate for the event.”
Kelley also listed the timeline of events that took place throughout the week on campus. The events spanned from Monday through Friday, including MLK Day of Change, MLK Prayer Vigil, Student Celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., MLK Humanities Forum, and keynote speaker Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela.
Estarlyn Hiraldo ’21, who goes by the stage name “Starling,” is an aspiring hip hop artist who performed his song “Like Fire” at the student celebration. Hiraldo left for his semester abroad in Prague on the following Monday and was happy to be able to be a part of the performance right before he departed from Friartown.
Hiraldo shared what hip hop music means to him and why he loves performing so much. He stated, “Performing describes how I feel as an artist and a rapper in a society where hip hop is a dominant genre. It is all about hype, who has the best flow, and the flashiest things. My music comes from my upbringing and where I am coming from. I have always loved to rap, and I have been making music since I was twelve. I want to put certain frustrations out there for people to relate to and I am trying to make it fun and real, and I hope to touch people’s hearts.”
Many students and faculty came out to enjoy the event, including Andre Rogers ’20. Rogers had a great time watching his classmates showcase their unique talents, and he took a particular liking to Maldonado’s winning karate performance.
Rogers reflected on the student celebration by saying, “I had an amazing time at the talent show! It was awesome to see some of PC’s finest engage in friendly competition through dance performances, rap battles, and singing. Maldonado’s karate routine especially caught my eye. The way Maldonado gracefully kicked, flipped, and punched in the air made me feel like I was watching Rush Hour 2 for the very first time all over again. I sure would want her by my side if I ever needed backup. Great job to everyone who performed!”
As the week dedicated to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., comes to a close, it is essential we do not forget his most important teachings. King once said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
The Student Celebration allowed for students to display their background and passions to connect with people on a more personal level. Overall, the event was a huge success and was another stride towards bringing the College community a little bit closer.
“Together, There is Nothing We Cannot Achieve.”: Ndaba Mandela Inspires Community at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation
by Hannah Langley ’21
Nearly 50 years ago, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., pronounced “I Have A Dream” to the entire world, advocating for racial equality and civil rights in America.
This past Friday, January 24, at the convocation event held in the famous leader’s name, Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela, reiterated this message to the Providence College community, advocating not only for diversity reforms, but also for reforms in all areas across the globe. Inspired by Dr. King’s words, Mandela stated, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.”
After beginning his speech by thanking God and quoting Dr. King, Mandela recounted the first time he remembered meeting his grandfather, Nelson Mandela. Born in 1982, Ndaba Mandela grew up under apartheid in South Africa. He admitted he was mainly sheltered from the brutality that surrounded him.
He recounted how at around eight years old he was told by his parents they were going to visit his grandfather in prison, and what he saw was not what he expected. He remembered pulling up to a beautiful, big house with a pool, a personal chef, and more, thinking how could this be jail? He said he learned later in life, however, “They tried to break his mental strength.”
The apartheid government wanted to break Mandela’s will to work for reform by giving him this comfortable life in isolation, but he never backed down. It was in this moment Ndaba Mandela decided, “I want to go to jail,” meaning he wanted to be like his grandfather and work for reform in society.
Two of the largest programs Mandela advocates for in his work are HIV/AIDS and creating more awareness and a more positive image for the continent of Africa. Mandela remembered visiting the United States for the first time, telling the story of when he and his cousin went to Disney World. It was then that Mandela started to realize the image and perception people have of Africa is extremely skewed. He recounted how one person asked him how big the lions were, to which he and his cousin gave him a strange look and laughed, and how another person mentioned how they thought they would need guards for safety to visit Africa.
“People outside this country don’t know much about Africa,” said Mandela. “We want to change the stigma,” he said, from being just about the amount of poverty, violence, hunger, and safaris in Africa. “We want the younger generation to be proud of their identity and proud to say ‘I am an African.’”
To further this work, Mandela established Africa Rising Foundation in 2009 to instill a sense of pride within Africans and educate the world about Africa’s growing economy and rich culture. He also founded the Mandela Institute for Humanity to promote “youth empowerment,” saying the goal was to “teach young people to work the same way as Nelson Mandela.”
In addition, he has done extensive work surrounding the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa, relating his work back to his own personal experience of losing both of his parents to the disease.
Mandela talked about how people were and still are “dying in silence,” and it is the responsibility of everyone, especially parents, to communicate with their children about the risk of HIV/AIDS, especially in today’s “MTV culture” as he put it.
Mandela rallied the crowd by talking about how this new year and the new decade is the time for reform and change. “Our grandparents fought the good fight,” he said, relating to his grandfather’s own work against Apartheid. “Now it’s our turn to fight,” he said.
He stated his advocacy for new voices to rise up and take a stand, saying, “We cannot allow criminals to continue to parade around as officials in our society.” He continued, saying there is a lack of youth participation, arguing, “Young people are marginalized and don’t have a voice anymore.” He argues that if it is because people are too afraid, we should “hold each other’s hands and march together,” just as young people used to do.
Several members of the PC community were awarded for such outreach and service during the convocation ceremony, as well.
Dr. Terza Lima-Neves ’00, originally from Cape Verde, was awarded for her work as a political science professor and chair of the department of social and behavioral sciences at Johnson C. Smith University, where she contributed towards research in international politics, global gender studies, and the current African diaspora in America. During her reception of her award, her son ran up on stage with her, and the audience saw the love and support received by her family.
Jack Murphy ’20 was also awarded for various service works he has done during his four years at PC, including his outstanding work in Nicaragua during his summer with the Father Philip A. Smith, O.P., Fellowship for Study and Service Abroad. The Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) also received an award for their work in sponsoring events on campus that promote inclusivity, social justice, equality, and universal freedom.
Students and staff walked away from the event with a renewed sense of community and belonging, inspired by the dream which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared all those years ago.