Campus day of events celebrates life of MLK

Students, staff, faculty, and community members came together last Monday to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. They didn’t come just to honor the past; many of the day’s events also focused on how to implement King’s vision in the present and future Carnegie Mellon community.

University President Jared Cohon began the day’s program with his annual “State of Diversity at Carnegie Mellon” presentation. In particular, Cohon focused on the presence of the African-American and Hispanic communities on campus. He reported that the number of African-American and Hispanic students enrolled in the class of 2010 was larger than in previous years, about 5.4 percent. However, while the overall first-year attrition rate has declined, minority first-year attrition has actually increased.
Cohon attributed this increase in the number of minority students transferring after their first year to the lack of available financial aid that Carnegie Mellon can offer its students.

“We cannot meet the financial need of many of our students,” he said. “Other schools are offering more money.”

Cohon praised the work of the Diversity Advisory Council (DAC), now in its ninth year. The group’s goals for this year are to enroll more minority undergraduate students and to place more minorities in senior staff positions within the university.

In addition, Cohon presented Everett Tademy with the Barbara Lazarus Award for Culture and Climate. The award is presented annually to a staff or faculty member who has made noteworthy contributions toward creating a campus environment that is both supportive and diverse. Tademy is the assistant vice president for Diversity and Equal Opportunity Services.

Later in the afternoon, Tademy led the community conversation titled “Opportunity. Justice. Pittsburgh? Is King’s Vision Relevant in 2007?” The program featured a panel of seven men and women who have helped nurture and improve some of Pittsburgh’s most distressed neighborhoods.

“These folks are in the business of creating opportunities for people,” Tademy said.

The panelists were Terri Baltimore, director of arts and neighborhood development, Hill House Association; Rob Stephany, director of commercial development, East Liberty Development, Inc.; John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock; Justin Strong, owner of the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty; Rashad Byrdsong, executive director for Community Empowerment Association; Omar-Abdul Lawrence, community organizer; and Mark Roosevelt, superintendent, Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Roosevelt spoke about the achievement gap between white students and minority students.

“Education is the civil rights issue of our time,” Roosevelt said. “The need for leadership is as dire now as it was then,” he said, referring to King’s experience during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

But the “achievement gap” is not just about education. While Pittsburgh promotes itself as a city of neighborhoods, often there are gaps between neighborhoods across economic or racial lines.

Panelist Terri Baltimore has given tours of the Hill District to Carnegie Mellon students for the past 14 years.

“Pittsburgh is a community that is still segregated in a lot of respects,” she said. “You need to see a place or community from the inside out.”

After her tours, she said, students “begin to see the neighborhood in a whole different way.”

At 5 p.m., a crowd of nearly 500 gathered to hear this year’s keynote speaker, John Wideman. Wideman is a Pittsburgh native and professor of English at Brown University. Wideman assessed the state of current affairs today from the perspective of Martin Luther King. He also read several selections from his own writings.

“The MLK Committee was very pleased with Mr. Wideman,” stated Anne Witchner, assistant dean of student affairs, via e-mail. “[His speech] was very touching.”

Speaking alongside him was Rosalyce Broadous-Brown, a senior decision sciences major and president of SPIRIT. Relating stories of racial prejudice that she had witnessed, Broadous-Brown urged her audience not to be complacent with this current state of affairs. Martin Luther King, she said, was not complacent, and urged people to become active in fighting for the rights and treatment they deserved.

“I wanted people to see Martin Luther King’s dream through the eyes of those who are still waiting for it to be realized,” Broadous- Brown stated in an e-mail.“I wanted the audience to understand that while the things that Martin Luther King did in the past were great, they didn’t alleviate us of our responsibility to continue making the world better.”

“Her talk was as good as Mr. Wideman’s,” said Witchner.

Later in the evening, Carnegie Mellon’s Black Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) and the University of Pittsburgh’s Pan-African Graduate and Professional Student Association (PANAF) hosted a discussion titled “Cultivating the Promised Land: Redefining Community Leadership in the 21st Century.”

A panel of students from both Carnegie Mellon and Pitt shared their definitions of community leadership, assessed its current state, and described their visions of community leadership in 2025. They also described the means necessary to achieving those goals, such as setting standards for the youth, educating the youth as well as adults, giving back financially, and volunteering in underserved communities.

The panel consisted of Carnegie Mellon graduate students including Sola Talabi of the Tepper School of Business, Adrienne White of the School of Computer Science, and Royce Francis of the Carnegie Institute of Technology. Graduate student panelists from Pitt were Yvette Wing of the Graduate School of Public Heath and Giana Lawrence of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Olabukunola Williams, a program associate with Global Solutions Pittsburgh, was also on the panel.

Prior to the panel’s forum, Pitt graduate student Jonathan White performed spoken-word poetry.

“The panelist[s] engaged the entire audience and we had a fantastic dialogue between the panelist[s] and the audience,” stated Arielle Drummond, a graduate student in Carnegie Mellon’s Department of Biomedical Engineering and president of the BGSO, in an e-mail message.

Drummond reported that more than 50 people, ranging from undergraduate and graduate students to staff and faculty members, attended the event.

Other events throughout the day included a vocal performance by students in the Schools of Music and Drama, the presentation of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Writing Awards to students from both Carnegie Mellon and local high schools, screenings of several documentaries, and a candlelight procession. In addition, local historian John Brewer spoke about the importance of photographs in documenting the events of the civil rights movement, several of which were on display in the UC, courtesy of the [ITAL]Pittsburgh Courier[ITAL] archives.