(Cover picture from Winston-Salem Journal)
One hour and sixteen minutes. One hour and sixteen minutes is not a lot of time to discuss today’s racial and political climate, to recognize the efforts made by some of this country’s most powerful freedom fighters, and to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
However, at Wait Chapel on January 18th, the day marking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, author Ilyasah Shabazz and Ambassador Attallah Shabazz, daughters of civil rights icons Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, were able to make every second of that one hour and sixteen minutes count.
For sixteen years, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University have been collaborating to create a special event to commemorate Dr. MLK Jr.’s legacy, and in 2016, the Shabazz sisters stood alongside Princeton graduate and Wake Forest College Dean Michele Gillespie to commemorate MLK’s legacy.
This event also paid recognition to the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins that occurred at Woolworth’s in Greensboro.
One week after the anniversary of this historic moment in the civil rights movement, 10 students from WFU joined students and teachers from WSSU and Atkins High School at the Kress Store in Downtown Winston-Salem to reenact the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins.
This theme of this year’s program was “On Common Ground: The Future is Dependent on us” with an intent to encourage the next generation of leaders to help end systemic injustice and mend historical divides.
“The future is dependent on us. Even here today, we have two very different universities who [are standing] on common ground,” Chancellor of WSSU Dr. Elwood Robinson said.
The celebration began with opening remarks from current students from both universities, and was followed by a performance by the WFU Gospel Choir of the Black American National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’.
“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, let us march on till victory is won,” the audience joined the University’s Gospel Choir in song.
People of all different races, ethnicity and genders were singing words that seemed to be an anthem of inclusion, peace and respect for humanity: an anthem for the welfare of the common good.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were seminal figures in the fight for civil rights, and it’s through the voices of their family members that we gain clarity of their vision and an understanding of how to be effective change agents in the 21st-century struggle for justice,” Wake Forest’s chief diversity officer Barbee Oakes said.
Ambassador Attallah and her sister, Ilyasah Shabazz spoke about their differing perspectives as the daughters of Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X.
Ambassador Attallah Shabazz wanted to make it clear to the public that despite portrayals in many popular movies, Dr. MLK Jr., and her father Malcolm X did, in fact, get along.
Although King supported nonviolent civil disobedience in the South and Malcolm X, rebellion in the North, the two men “respected each other, [despite] their different styles,” Ambassador Shabazz said.
When Dean Gillespie asked the women about the Black Lives Matter movement, Attallah Shabazz said that she believes her father and Dr. MLK Jr. would have been supporters the efforts.
“We’re trying to be a part of something that makes a difference – that enacts policy and makes change,” Ambassador Shabazz said.
“Come Friday, [students] will leave campus. But how often do you hear about the black child who didn’t make it back to campus come Monday?”