Posted February 3, 2016
By JEAN-PAUL AGUIRRE
On Wednesday at 6 p.m., the United Black Students organization held a forum at the University of Miami to remember the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its purpose was to reflect on how King’s philosophy and his approach to the civil rights movement continue to inspire the movements occurring in our society today.
According to Beja Turner, first vice president of the UBS, the forum was designed to be a loose, topical discussion among students — including both members of the UBS and non-members — about King’s impact on the civil rights movement in the United States and how his accomplishments in the past affect the issues occurring today in the U.S.
“We wanted to begin with a topic and then see where the discussion went from there,” said Turner.
A simple question was posed at the beginning of the discussion: What makes Dr. King famous? Students, as well as Dr. Michelle Maldonado, who is a professor of religious studies and an assistant provost for undergraduate education at UM, then began to list qualities about him that make people remember him and use him as the standard for all things involving civil rights and equality: his non-violent approach to protests, his manner of speaking and his faith.
“I think the fact that he was Christian had something to do with him becoming famous as a civil rights activist in the U.S.,” Maldonado said.
She also said she believed that it made it easy for the public to relate to him.
Being two days removed from Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the students proceeded to talk about how social media had been used during the holiday and whether or not what was being posted was conducive to his memory and movements occurring today.
The students agreed that posting about King and his message were appropriate and helpful in celebrating his accomplishments and what he did for black people in the U.S. However, they felt that there were instances when people were using King’s image to vilify actions or promote themselves and their views.
The students also felt those type of posts were of no use to anyone, much less those who are combating inequality to preserve civil liberties for black people and trying to bring awareness to the onslaught of police brutality cases that are happening in the nation.
With all the cases that have come up in recent months in the U.S., such as the events that took place at Ferguson after Michael Brown’s death and the riots in Baltimore after the murder of Freddie Gray, the students talked about strategies that could be implemented in order for movements, such as Black Lives Matter, to succeed.
Some of the students believed that carrying on King’s philosophy of non-violence and peaceful protests would be the best approach to dealing with the injustice black people are facing in the country today.
Other students, like UM sophomore, Antonio Mercurius, believe that it does not help the movement if black people are the only ones who come out and confront the issues. White people who are in agreement with the movement need to come out and show their support, he said.
“If you are quiet, it means you agree with what is happening,” Mercurius said.
Many of those in attendance at the forum entertained the idea that maybe in order for there to be progress with movements like Black Lives Matter, people need to speak up whenever they hear an offensive comment that might be stereotypical or demeaning, instead of “sliding it under the rug.” They, then, went on a tangent to point out that even King was radical, contrary to popular belief and what people are taught in school.
They acknowledged that certain movements might need to become more radical in order to gain attention and make people understand their seriousness, even if it means making them uncomfortable. They came to the conclusion that when people are made uncomfortable, they tend to take the message more seriously and grow from the experience.
The forum was held in the master’s apartment of the UM’s Hecht Residential College as a part of the week-long memorial for King thanks to Maldonado and her belief in the message the UBS is trying to spread.
“The students just asked if they could use the space, and I said yes,” said Maldonado of the members of the UBS. “A lot of my work and research involves race and religion, and I think this setting is better for discussions like these.”
General body meetings for the UBS are held on the first Thursday of each month in the Donna E. Shalala Student Center’s North Room.
If you would like more information about the United Black Students organization, you can follow it on various social media, such as Instagram and Twitter; its handle is UMiamiUBS. You can also find it on Facebook at UBS UMiami.