City of Milwaukee Purchasing Director Rhonda Kelsey delivered a powerful keynote speech about the modern Civil Rights Movement to the UW-Whitewater campus Jan. 26 for the 34th Annual MLK Commemorative Event held via WebEx.
Kelsey, an alumna of UW-Whitewater and also a member of the Milwaukee Mayor’s Cabinet, wanted her speech to scratch the surface of King’s commitment to giving back and selflessly serving others.
She brought about the year of 2020, dubbing it as so many others have called it: “The Year of Hell,” and also brought light to the racial injustices that occurred in the national spotlight – Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others from years past.
“For better or worse, people gathered around the world to protest against police brutality and racial inequality for several months, rebirthing the Black Lives Matter movement. Sadly, these events and a long history of built up oppression of racial tension, lit a long awaited fire and sparked much needed police reform, leadership changes, and doused America and the rest of the world with a crash course and macroscopic view of the ugliness of racism,” Kelsey said.
She compared the year’s events with the 1960’s and King’s movement, saying the similarities were “frightening, and almost indistinguishable.” Speaking about King’s non-violent rhetoric for change, she mentioned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in one of his many speeches, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
Kelsey also spoke about the continued racial disparities between white and Black people such as in healthcare, income and education.
“I could go on, and on, and on, and drown ourselves in a pool full of daunting statistics,” she said. “We’re not blind to the fact that a tremendous amount of work needs to be done to eliminate numerous racial disparities and inequity. Yet I choose to be optimistic. ”
Kelsey welcomed historic firsts for the country, including the first African and South Asian American female Vice President Kamala Harris. She reminded UW-Whitewater that no contribution is too big or too small. She told Warhawks to keep moving forward and to work to make this country better for all – to inspire and be the change we want to see in our world.
The virtual assembly also featured performances by students Darius Sanders of UW-Whitewater and De’Shawn Ford of Concordia University.
Ford, a psychology major, delivered a spoken word piece that he wrote in tribute to King and his legacy.
“I am afraid that I will be judged before I get to speak the words of my truth. I am afraid that I will never share my love before I am silenced by hate. I am afraid that my brother and sister and mother and father won’t get to see me grow into who I’m meant to be. I am afraid that I will grow up to be bitter and sad because I never got the chance to fulfill my destiny,” said Ford.
His piece also inspired hope.
“Yet I, we, are so much more than fearful. We are Nat Turner and Eleanor Bumpurs. We are Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. We are Trayvon Martin and Rekia Boyd. We are George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We are change. Modern revolutionaries with knowledge in the palm of our hands. We are strong. An accumulation of the struggles of those who came before us. We are the future, chasing the dream of 1963. We are Black, and we must be proud.”
Sanders performed a spirited musical piece called “Dream Variation” for Margaret Bonds, who was one of the first Black composers and performers to gain recognition in the United States. Bonds was a composer, pianist, arranger and teacher best remembered for her African American Spirituals and collaborations with Langston Hughes.
As the event came to a close, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Dwight Watson encouraged attendees to remember the important words spoken and invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“No work is insignificant,” said King. “All labor that uplifts humanity, has dignity, importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
To watch the 34th Annual MLK Commemorative Event visit https://www.uww.edu/sdes/lecture-series.