WVU students, faculty and administrators gathered in the Mountainlair ballroom on Monday for the University’s first in-person Martin Luther King Jr. Day event since 2020.
“It feels wonderful,” Director of WVU’s Center for Black Culture and Research Marjorie Fuller said about the event's in-person return. “It's an opportunity that I didn't know if we were going to have this year. But it seems like everybody enjoyed themselves. It’s an opportunity to come back together again.”
The Center for Black Culture and Research hosted the morning’s event, which featured a presentation by keynote speaker and NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, author of “Race-Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation.”
WVU President E. Gordon Gee, Provost Maryanne Reed and Dean of Students Corey Farris were also in attendance.
Deggans’ presentation highlighted themes of anti-racism, communication, race literacy and media literacy. Deggans also connected King’s work to historical civil rights achievements and progress that he hopes to see in the future.
“As MLK has said, ‘The key is progress through communication.’ We're not just about expressing rage, frustration or moral righteousness. We're about trying to connect and communicate about how we all feel about this,” he said.
“When you do the work, right, when you do the work the way Martin Luther King Jr. did, you are pushing people to challenge things that they think they know,” Deggans said during the presentation.
Fuller said she hopes the event helped educate audience members and encourage them to bring about positive changes in the community.
“I just hope that everybody took away from the program something special, something that lets them go out into the community and live the legacy of Dr. King and emulate his work,” Fuller said. “Because although we have come a long way from where we used to be, like Mr. Deggans said, we still have a long way to go.”
Deggans' presentation also included an anti-racist call to action.
“It's not enough to walk around and say, ‘You know, I don't contribute to racism. I'm not a racist person.’ You have to look inside your own sphere of influence and try to break down systemic racism, at least in one area, one place,” he said. “Make a difference in one place, that would be a great way to honor MLK's legacy.”
Following Deggans’ presentation the 2023 MLK Achievement Award was presented to former Student Life administrator Michael Ellington and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority awarded 16 scholarships to undergraduate students in honor of WVU faculty member Justine A. Lee Burnett.
Amaya Jernigan, former WVU student body president and member of Eta Omicron, WVU’s undergraduate Alpha Kappa Alpha chapter, was among the scholarship recipients.
“It's just been amazing to really see that we have a community here who cares about us. And it's just nice to see that they were the same letters upon their test as I do,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan, a senior, had also attended the last in-person Martin Luther King Jr. Unity Breakfast.
“What a lot of people spoke about today is exactly what my sorority aspires to do,” she said. “We aspire to do service and make a staple on our community. And I know that Eta Omicron has definitely tried a lot this semester, to increase voter registration to increase Black health and wellness. And I'm just making sure that our Black students have a place to go to and be able to call home here on West Virginia’s campus.”
To Jernigan, the day marks a historical symbol of love, progress and togetherness.
“This day really just means everything to me, because it aligns exactly with my principles. And so yeah, I'm happy to be here,” she said.