As part of Lehigh’s 10-day celebration of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the late U.S. civil rights leader, about 200 members of the Lehigh community gathered Thursday (Jan. 19) for a convocation in Packard Auditorium.
Carmen Twillie Ambar, president of Cedar Crest College and keynote speaker, described her own life against the background of black-white relations and the civil rights movement in mid-20th-century America.
Her father, Ambar said, picked cotton in Arkansas during the early part of his life. Her mother taught at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., a formerly all-white school that had been integrated in 1957 when U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower took control of the Arkansas National Guard and ordered U.S. Army troops to escort nine black students into the school.
Ambar, whose husband, Saladin M. Ambar, is a visiting assistant professor of political science and Africana studies at Lehigh, told her audience to “honor your hands with work worthy of the blood and pain that so many people’s hands had to endure.”
After Ambar’s talk, awards were presented to members of the Lehigh and local community who embody King’s teachings. In addition, award-winning dancer Anthony Rasheed Burrell performed an interpretive dance to Stevie Wonder’s song “Pastime Paradise.”
Jame’l Hodges, director of Multicultural Affairs and head of the celebration planning committee, invited listeners to attend other events in the King series. (See list of events below.)
Veronica Hunter, Greek Life coordinator, and Rita Jones, director of the Women’s Center, presented the 2010 Martin Luther King Jr. Awards. The recipients were:
Faculty award—Iveta Silova, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor of Comparative and International Education
Silova’s 2007 book, From Sites of Occupation to Symbols of Multiculturalism, explores social justice in former communist states. She challenges students to speak out on controversial topics such as minority education while promoting a safe learning environment. Her nominator said Silova “lives, breathes and exemplifies social justice.”
Staff award—Tyrone Russell, Residence Life coordinator
Russell has met with college-aged African-American men in informal settings to discuss academics, professionalism and other issues.
Student award—Edward Morrin, graduate student in sociology
A nominator said of Morrin, “Lehigh will lose one of its most valuable community members when he graduates.”
Student award—Darius Callier ‘11
Vice president of the Black Student Union and a member of the Student Senate, Callier contributes op-ed columns to The Brown and White, Lehigh's student newspaper, and also writes for The Brown and Black, a Lehigh student magazine. A nominator wrote: “His broad focus on social equality and justice, as well as his respectful attitude towards others, exemplifies the mission Dr. King embarked on for himself and would want many others to follow.”
Student organization award—Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity
The fraternity works with numerous community organizations. A nominator wrote, “Despite its small number, the fraternity has been able to do wonderful things for the Lehigh community, all of which are in line with Dr. King’s ideals and teachings.”
Community organization award—STRIVE
STRIVE offers tutoring and mentoring to students in the Lehigh Valley. A nominator wrote, “STRIVE gives Lehigh students the opportunity to practice and spread the ideas of Dr. King.”
Corporation award—Wachovia/Wells Fargo Corp.
Wachovia/Wells Fargo since 2007 has provided scholarships to students of color, especially first-generation college students. A nominator wrote, “Wachovia’s support has enabled Lehigh to work toward its mission of an inclusive and more diverse university population.”
Local business award—Deja Brew
The South Bethlehem restaurant shows free movies each month to promote open dialogue.
First annual Percy Hughes Awards
The Percy Hughes Awards for Scholarship, Humanity and Social Change recognize those who have implemented “big, transformative” ideas in their communities. Hughes, who taught philosophy, education and psychology at Lehigh from 1907 to 1942, urged the university to become a co-ed institution in 1918, 53 years before Lehigh began admitting women undergraduate students.
The inaugural awards were presented by Hughes’ granddaughters, Elizabeth Clark-West and Darcy Rowell, to Carolina Hernandez, director of the Community Service Office, and Jessica Harris ‘09, graduate student in elementary education in the College of Education.
“Carolina keeps the university involved in the community in every way imaginable,” Clark-West said of Hernandez, who also co-chairs the university’s Council for Equity and Community.
Harris has coordinated an after-school reading program, recruiting 50 Lehigh students to meet each week and read with students from Donegan Elementary School. She has also developed a summer reading theater for students. A nominator wrote, “Jessica’s work is representative of the type of action Percy Hughes promoted. She is helping children living in poverty in South Bethlehem gain experiences that will provide tremendous opportunities for them to grow and succeed.”
The remaining Martin Luther King Jr. events are:
Friday, Jan. 22, 6 p.m.: The First Annual MLK Jr. Lehigh University Oratorical Presentation and High School Essay Contest (featuring STRIVE and STAR students), Lamberton Hall. The theme of the contest entries will be “I Dream Lehigh To Be.”
Monday, Jan. 25, 4:10 p.m.: Open Conversation on Religion, Inclusion and Diversity in Maginnes Hall 101
Tuesday, Jan. 26, Noon to 2 p.m.: Faculty, Staff and Student Lunch Discussion on Social Justice, University Center Room 303
Tuesday, Jan. 26, 7 p.m.: MLK Jr. Celebration Keynote Address by William Gray in Baker Hall of the Zoellner Arts Center