MLK day

Freshman Zoey Tensen watches Eric Thomas give a keynote address as a part of the University's Martin Luther King Day of Learning Jan. 18. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted the event which all occurred online. 

For the 35th consecutive year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was recognized across the nation — a day dedicated to celebrating long strides toward equality and liberty for the oppressed. Northwest played a role in continuing this tradition for students, forming a week of activities centered around MLK’s legacy.

All activities the week of Jan. 18  are hosted by or include input from the Northwest Diversity and Inclusion Office. There are activities happening Jan. 18-21.

The week began with an MLK Day of Learning available via Zoom between 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jan. 18. Then, at 1 p.m., there was a keynote address given by Eric Thomas through Facebook live on the Northwest Diversity and Inclusion Facebook page

Thomas is a globally renowned motivational speaker, focused on challenging others to be successful. Thomas grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Originally a high school dropout and homeless, he now has a doctorate in education administration, which he obtained from Michigan State University in 2015, and travels internationally talking to leaders of all sorts about being successful and inclusive.

Justin Mallett, associate provost for Diversity and Inclusion, said it was a no-brainer to bring Thomas in for his speech. 

“Eric Thomas is a phenomenal speaker,” Mallett said in an email to the Missourian. “He is the number one motivational speaker in the world.”

Thomas began his address by explaining why we honor and celebrate MLK, but encouraging attendees not to forget the others who all helped with the Civil Rights Movement alongside MLK.

It did not take long for Thomas’ passion on the subject to take hold, and through each point he seemed to become more excited. 

Thomas credited much of the progress of the movement to the work done by college students and on college campuses.

“These are the brilliant young people who have strategies, who have ideas, who have passion and most of all they have youth,” Thomas said.

He put even more emphasis on the importance of youth with a little story. When the protests and marches were happening over the past summer, Thomas said he was getting too old to march with them. Thomas said somebody asked him why he wasn’t marching recently, and he said that he doesn’t have that youthful energy anymore. However, he said had he been 10 or 20 years younger, he would’ve been out there marching too.

“I have more wisdom than I have youth right now,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he had a couple points he wanted to hit in his speech. The first being that dreams and goals are backed by considerable action.

The Detroit native said when he travels the nation and goes on different campuses, he notices students have zeal and “are ready to march,” but explains that they can’t just march.

“Your actions have to live up to the march,” Thomas said.

As great as being willing to march is, he said, if you are not focused in school and have low grades then you need to focus on that first.

“You are only as good to the movement as you are to yourself,” Thomas said.

Thomas said MLK, Rosa Parks and others were able to do what they did because of their character elsewhere. He explained there was another woman before Parks who held a similar protest, but was not remembered or recognized as a face of the movement because of different morals than what the movement was really focused, whereas Parks lived those morals. 

What Parks and MLK did was not by chance, Thomas said, it was a strategy and a careful follow-through.

With that, Thomas went into his second point of his speech, that not only is it necessary to have a thought but executing the thought is also crucial.

“Innovation is rewarding; execution is worship,” Thomas said.

While he does have a Ph.D., the Michigan native said he does not wear that title or call himself “Dr. Thomas,” but that he realized in America there is a pecking order. 

“I understand that the people who succeed are the people who execute,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that at some point in a person’s life, they have to prove they can do more than just talk. He followed that up by noting that after completing those tasks, whether it be a degree or writing a book, people will look at you differently each time.

“When your influence grows, your impact grows,” Thomas said.

Kirayle Jones, executive president of the Student Senate, said he thought Thomas’ speech was phenomenal. 

“He was very insightful and helped me to see things in a different light. Honestly, I heard a lot about Dr. Thomas and I even did a little research on him, and it was everything I expected and some,” Jones said in an email to the Missourian.

Jones said what he really took from Thomas’ speech, as a future educator, was that sometimes students need a little poking and prodding to achieve their goals. He said that as mentors and teachers, their jobs are to create victories for each student. 

“We must help them find themselves, and by doing that, other things will fall into place,” Jones said.

Every year that MLK Day is celebrated, it helps remind people of his impact on not only the Civil Rights Movement, but the entire nation.

Mallett said that events like MLK Day and Thomas’ speech give opportunities to learn more about MLK and Black history. He said that in this climate, it is important to be educated on these topics so we can continue making our campus an inclusive campus.

“We need to honor MLK everyday, but this is a day that we can nationally honor a man who wanted to create equality for everyone, believed in inclusion and worked tirelessly to accomplish it,” Mallett said in an email.

Jones said that MLK was the perfect example of hard work and dedication, and that he stuck to his goals. He said he thinks honoring his work, along with others’ work, is the least we can do.

“They stood in the face of violence, destruction, discriminations and demanded equality and justice,” Jones said. “They are the ultimate examples of grit and dedication. We must strive to be like MLK and live a life that supports equality for all individuals.”

Several events throughout the week will continue to honor MLK and his work. From 4-6 p.m. Jan. 19, the First Ladies organization is doing a community service event about increasing positivity on campus through sending a positivity note to others on campus via Google Forms. The movie “Selma” will be shown from 6-9 p.m. Jan. 20 in the Ron Houston Center for Performing Arts. The last event of MLK Week will be from 6-8 p.m. Jan. 21, in the East Room of the Station where the Black Student Union is hosting a Juneteenth celebration.

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