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Northwest freshman, Daniel Harris, performed music for MLK peace brunch attendees on his viola. Attendees were able to enjoy Harris’ music several times throughout the brunch on Jan. 21.

A room full of empowerment sharply contrasted the cold weather  Jan. 21. Playing host to several students, faculty, community members and even Sen. Roy Blunt, the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Brunch united the community behind the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The event, hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, consisted of a brunch buffet alongside several speakers. However, the emphasis was on keynote speaker and Northwest alumna Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge.

Westbrooks-Hodge graduated from Northwest in 1991. Her speech covered several points from four key “nuggets” for ensuring success and inclusion for all students and community members to a workshop she created called the “Scholarship Solution.”

Westbrooks-Hodge also expressed how meaningful the event was to her.

“Awe-inspiring, deeply meaningful, in particular, because planning this event helped me hone the skills that made me who I am today,” Westbrooks-Hodge said. “This is walking into my beginnings being at this event.”.

She explained how Northwest has become more inclusive since 1991.

“The most glaring changes are two things,” Westbrooks-Hodge said. “The infrastructure improvements are deeply meaningful because the most visible sign of prosperity is the physical evidence of it.”

The second change she noted was the creation of the DEI office.

“The most impactful sign of progress is the existence of a DEI team and an intentional focus on ensuring that people who are from other places feel included,” Westbrooks-Hodge said.

She further elaborated saying the DEI office would have helped her.

The things that they do now, we did for ourselves like all of the planning,” Westbrooks-Hodge said. “And so, it’s cutting my teeth on all of that, that made me who I am.”

Alongside the infrastructure and DEI office, the MLK Peace Brunch has also evolved.

Vice President of the DEI office Juanita Simmons explained how the event has come to be what it is now.

“This is the eighth annual Martin Luther King Brunch on this campus,” Simmons said. “How it has evolved is the first so many years they did a march and then the brunch. The last two years we’ve done a day of service so that we can give back to the community in the spirit of Dr. King. And it outgrew itself.”

The growth and value of the event have only been helped by speakers such as Westbrooks-Hodge, according to Simmons.

“It (Westbrooks-Hodge’s keynote speech) was dynamic and it was very heart-wrenching,” Simmons said. “You could tell she actually came from her heart speaking …  I hope that they (students) will take her message away. For them to understand that the only way America can become good, America can become the democracy that we profile ourselves to be, is for everyone to take on a spirit of humanitarianism. We’ve got to begin to care about others.”

Freshman criminology major Kevin Nguyen agreed with Simmons.

“I think the keynote speaker Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge … was the most impactful, just listening to her story,” Nguyen said. “That influenced me. I had a scripted thing that I was reading, but after she spoke, some of the things I started out by saying … challenging them [the students] to work for a better future, those things came from the heart after hearing what she had to say.”

MLK Week will continue with Stephon Ferguson’s performance “MLK Reborn”  Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

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