Almost every seat was filled in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis as individuals from the university and community came together to acknowledge and celebrate the legacy of the storied civil rights leader during the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance on Monday.
Though the two-hour event included the keynote speaker Marc Lamont Hill, MC Jasmine Huda of KTVI Fox/KPLR and performances from the E. Desmond Lee Community Artist in Residence Brian Owens and others, one could argue that the highlight of the afternoon came from three current UMSL students.
They were the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Recipients: accounting student Anthony Taylor, history major Berneshia Jamison and nursing student Kathryn Dorsey.
The scholarship committee selected the trio from an applicant pool of 28 students based on the strength of their academics and ambitions as well as essays that addressed King’s Nobel Peace Prize speech and the day’s theme – “How would you further Dr. King’s legacy of love, unity and equality in this political climate?”
Jamison answered this prompt with a counter question.
“What can we do in a forest of trees full of poisonous fruit?” she asked, reading from her essay on Monday. “I’ve learned that it’s much harder to chop down trees than it is to plant seeds. However, both must be a priority for those that wish to continue the legacy of Dr. King. In this day and age, I’ve committed myself to plant seeds in the lives of those around me.”
She shared her powerful story: a 16-year-old dropout, a mother at 17 and homeless the next year, she’s now a junior on her way to earning her bachelor’s degree with an ambition of becoming a librarian specializing in Black Christian history.
“I’ve come to learn that oppressive systems do not fall every night,” she said. “They require consistency, patience, love and a willingness to walk alongside Dr. King’s legacy, which has left us stones so that we may knock down the Goliaths of our time.”
Family history was a theme for the essays. Taylor – who was inspired to adopt the peace, love, unity and happiness message espoused in King’s Nobel Peace Prize speech – works on becoming an inspiration to others in his community while working two jobs as a single parent and going to school.
A nontraditional student, Taylor came to UMSL inspired to improve his life because of his son.
“I’m excited and thrilled about receiving this scholarship, very humble,” he said. “This scholarship will enable me to prepare my education and allow me to become an impacting member of our community. When I graduate, I plan on paying it forward by sharing my knowledge with people with less resources to ultimately improve the state of my community.”
Dorsey’s work as a doula inspired her to study nursing, and she aspires to become a nurse midwife. She relayed the dual shocks of learning about the U.S.’s lack of intervention in the 1994 Rwandan genocide and how traditional health providers systemically devalue the experience of female patients.
King’s statements about nonviolence made Dorsey think about how to apply those principles to her own aspirations.
“Whatever comes next for me after I earned my nursing degree, you can be certain that I will be contributing positives is dynamic systemic change for our community,” she said. “Like Dr. King, I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word and reality.”
The UMSL Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion organized the event with support from co-sponsors including UMSL’s African American Alumni Chapter, Division of Student Affairs, Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education, Dining and Food Services, Student Government Association, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, University Program Board, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority as well as St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU and Coca-Cola.