Community members and leaders, St. Cloud State students and faculty joined together to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with breakfast and day of service in the Atwood Ballroom.
Breakfast started at 7 a.m. Attendees hung their coats and got in line for a buffet-style breakfast. With at least 360 people registered for the event, the Ballroom continued to fill throughout the morning.
The room rustled until just before 8 a.m. when Debra Leigh, event coordinator and CARE director, came to the podium to introduce SCSU students Jasmine Goodman and Sie Ben Traore. Goodman and Traore continued by welcoming President Potter to the stage.
“I’ve always marveled at leaders who would put themselves at risk of losing their lives, because they would not be silent, because they would act,” Potter said. “Many leaders have put themselves in front.”
“Dr. King did not die for what he believed,” he said. “He died because he acted on what he believed, and his actions were to lead.”
“The changes that Martin Luther King brought out in this nation have offered us the opportunity to become different people, and in doing so, it’s truly important that we understand the other person,” he said. “We have to listen.”
Potter said that he was glad to be on a university campus, because it is a place that gives people the chance to listen and view various perspectives to work through challenges.
“The most important thing for me has been to recognize that my experience is poor and limited when it comes to understanding the journey that Dr. King led us on, and the journey in which we are still engaged today,” he said.
Potter ended by thanking everybody for attending the breakfast, and stepped down for musician Cameron Wright to come up and sing the “Black National Anthem.” Following Wright’s performance, invocations were given from varying religious backgrounds.
Then, after taking a short break, keynote speakers Vernon Jordan and Yolanda Adams were brought on screen via simulcast from the Minneapolis Convention Center. After Adams’ performance, Jordan took to the podium.
Jordan spoke about contemporary social justice issues and events, including the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations in Minneapolis.
“I think Martin [Luther King Jr.] would shed tears of joy to see on the other end of the national mall, 50 years after he rose his voice, Barack Obama raised his right hand,” Jordan said. “He would, as I did, on election night in 2008, and again in 2012, cry the tears of our parents and our grandparents.”
“Martin [Luther King Jr.] would be so proud that it was the work of so many men and women of every race that twice put Barack Obama in the White House,” he continued. “But I think, Martin [Luther King Jr.] would shed tears of sorrow to see Jim Crow reborn, not just in the South, but across America,” regarding recently enacted voter laws.
Jordan continued by detailing successes and growths in means of social justice, while also shining light on the lulls that remain prevalent in the United States, including that “the average white family has 13 times the wealth of the average black family.”
“Today, there would be tears of joy, and there would be tears of sorrow,” he continued. “But there would not be resignation.”
Exceeding his allotted time, Jordan ended his speech and applause rang through the Ballroom. Leigh then came back to the podium to invite a community panel to the stage to reflect on Jordan’s speech. The panelists were the Rev. James Alberts of St. Cloud, St. Cloud Police Chief William Blair Anderson, philosophy major Benjamin Bourgoin and attorney Edith Hernandez-Fussy.
“What a powerful message from Vernon today,” Alberts said. “It instills in us an opportunity for us to want to do something more ourselves, and that’s not to say that we haven’t already accomplished great things, and that we haven’t been doing great things.”
“But there are bridges we have to cross,” he said. “There are mountains you have to climb. The rumble still exists. And where we go from here, is how much effort we all individually want to put into this. I’m looking forward to the continued actions from everyone involved in order for us to be able to take on the challenges standing before us.”
“We’ve seen great change, but great change is yet coming.”
Panelists took turns describing their reactions and reflections of Jordan’s speech, and ended by giving accounts of work they’re doing in the community and elsewhere around social justice.
After panelists finished sharing, Leigh asked that the audience share their thoughts and reflections with those sitting around them. The audience took a brief time to share at their individual tables. Not long after, Leigh came back to the stage to bring forth the essay and arts contest winners, before giving closing remarks and thanking the audience once again.