January 20, 2017
Communications and Marketing
Interim Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile returned to the Hilltop on January 18 to speak to the Saint Anselm College community at the college's first Diversity Speaker Series and sixth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Dinner.
The inaugural Diversity Speaker Series featuring Ms. Brazile is the result of diligent efforts by the President's Steering Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness (PSCDI) to advance the understanding of, and commitment to, a more diverse and inclusive community at the college.
Brazile began her speech by quoting Dr. King: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
She spoke passionately about King's legacy and her experience continuing his life's work. She sees Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a time to recommit to his dream of a more perfect union, and quoted his sermon on greatness: "Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve," adding "You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
Brazile urged the audience to keep moving, finding their own paths to serve and fight for equality. "We are going to go forward together, because that is what Dr. King would like us to do," she said. "Go to the mountain top and take the next step with grace, humility, and courage."
In 1968, Brazile was eight years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She recalled that her grandmother gathered her and her siblings into her bedroom in Louisiana to tell them the news, where they reflected deeply and prayed for Dr. King, who Brazile describes as "a man of peace, love, and action, who wanted to make a difference in this world and brought others together." She and her family also prayed for Dr. King's wife and children; and then they prayed for his murderer. Brazile remembers hanging her mother's black hair scarf on their house door that night to express her family's mourning. It was in that moment she decided to dedicate her life to his unfinished work and his dream.
"Dr. King inspired me, as I am sure he inspired many of you in this room," Brazile said. When she left her studies at Louisiana State University, she followed the dream all the way to Washington, D.C., where she petitioned for almost three years to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a nationally-recognized holiday before succeeding in 1983 when the bill passed the House of Representatives.
"Her speaking style resonated with our students," says Wayne Currie, director of the Multicultural Center and Education Services. "Her message of activism, unity, and love was both encouraging and inspiring."
"The inauguration of the Diversity Speaker Series was a remarkable event," says theology professor Ahida Pilarski, and Chair of the President's Steering Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness. "The extraordinary attendance to this campus-wide event, and the engaged response from the audience revealed the importance and need for this kind of conversation to happen on a more regular basis in our Anselmian community. All our constituencies were represented at this event, reflecting our Anselmian commitment to inclusiveness. Learning to live in unity, respecting the dignity of every person and valuing the diversity that each brings to the conversation, must be a hallmark of our integral hospitality."
Brazile's call to action was positively welcomed by the college community. Senior natural science major Brian Georges, who has seen the college's celebration grow significantly over the past four years, reflected on her message for the community. "Each year, the dinner keeps getting bigger and bigger in our campus community," Georges says. "I am very happy for the success of the program and what that means for Saint Anselm College. Tonight, Donna Brazile reminded us of the values our country is built on, the progress that we've made, and that we can only go forward."
Dr. Steven R. DiSalvo, college president, in welcoming Brazile recalled the college's history of inclusive efforts, from the first women admitted to the college in the 1950s (though Saint Anselm would not be fully coeducational until 1974) to the search for a Chief Diversity Officer, which started in September 2016.
"Not long ago, this institution was faced with decisions to admit women and students of color, to create clubs and organizations that celebrate differences among genders and sexuality, and to create a workforce that represents the global society in which we live," said DiSalvo.
Quoting Benedictine Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, O.S.B., Dr. DiSalvo described Saint Anselm College's continued journey to the common goal of social justice and unity: "Forward, always forward, everywhere forward." With these words, Dr. DiSalvo gave Brazile a warm Benedictine welcome.
This year's dinner in Davison Hall was attended by 300 students, faculty, and staff. They celebrated this year's Martin Luther King, Jr. Planning Committee theme of "Unity, Not Uniformity" with poems and speeches from student-leaders, including student master of ceremonies Laura Monegro '18.
The event also announced this year's Social Justice Award Recipients: student Donald Stokes '17 and psychology professor Loretta Brady '99. These two Anselmians were recognized for their outstanding leadership, compassion, and courage as they work towards eliminating discrimination, oppression, and injustice.
The student-led dinner is the first of many activities this year celebrating Dr. King's life and calling others to continue his mission to promote peace and social justice. Over the next six weeks the Anselmian community will remember him with a diverse lineup of events including multiple panel and film discussions, a book display, community service, and several guest speakers.
The programming for Saint Anselm College's celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. is sponsored by the Multicultural Center and Education Services, Bean Foundation, Campus Ministry, Criminal Justice Department, Debate Team, English Department, Gender Studies, Geisel Library, Lucubrations, Meelia Center for Community Engagement, Multicultural Student Coalition, New Hampshire Institute of Politics, President's Steering Committee on Diversity and Inclusiveness, Sociology & Social Work Department, Student Activities & Leadership, and Student Government Association (SGA).
Photo (from left), Donald Stokes '17, Donna Brazile, and Loretta Brady '99
Story by Jasmine Blais '17