The State Governor’s Council held its celebratory Martin Luther King Jr. Day program at Macalester this year. American studies professor Duchess Harris, a co-chair of the Governor’s Council, was pivotal in selecting Macalester as a location for the event.
Over 1,000 people attended the initial youth rally, which was held in the Leonard Center. Governor’s Council member Danisa Farley invited the MacPhail Community Youth Choir and renowned musician J.D. Steele to perform. A reenactment march followed, which moved through campus onto Grand Avenue and Snelling before entering the Leonard Center at the beginning of the program.
Laura Jeffrey Academy students followed President Rosenberg’s welcome by singing the national anthem and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The gathering featured Sounds of Blackness, a three-time Grammy Award-winning ensemble founded and directed by Macalester alum Gary Hines ’74.
In his speech, Governor Mark Dayton said poverty, inequity and discrimination “still block our progress [towards equal] rights, liberties and opportunities” for all. In her keynote address, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright talked about the importance of making “impartial and fair” judicial decisions as a goal for our society.
The Council honored Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, the first African-American elected to that position statewide, with a lifetime achievement award. Carter remembered King by recalling, “we know that our lives truly begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”
Kyla Martin ’15, co-chair of Macalester’s BLAC (Black Liberation Affairs Committee), read June Brindel’s 1965 poem “The Road From Selma.”
The Governor’s Council recognized other individuals with distinguished service awards. Hennepin County Judge Pamela Alexander, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, Luz Maria Frias of the Minneapolis Foundation, Galinda Goss-Kuehn of Communication Services for the Deaf, and Lori Saroya of the Council on American Islamic Relations all received awards.
While Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken spoke, members of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis moved to the front of the crowd to perform a silent ‘die-in,’ encircled by local clergy leaders linking arms. They held signs that said “Reclaim MLK,” “Queer Black Lives Matter,” and “White Silence = White Violence.” After the speeches were over, the group rose and peacefully exited the Field House. It later published on its Facebook page a statement demanding “the leadership of the state take immediate action to institute meaningful, systemic policy solutions to address the worst racial disparities in the country” and critiquing the Governor for speaking annually while refusing “to comment on the racial inequities that continue to tear communities of color apart.”
Harris thought it was noteworthy that Dayton “ceded his [speech] time to Rep. Keith Ellison,” noting that everybody has a role to play in movements of social change. Harris highlighted the roles of professors, elected officials, active resistors, corporations and students; all key in instigating meaningful social justice.
Later in the day, theater professor Harry Waters Jr., Assistant Director of the Lealtad-Suzuki Center Demetrius Colvin and actor Adam Western performed a staged reading of “The Meeting,” a 1987 play depicting a meeting between Malcolm X and MLK Jr.
Harris noted that it was incredible to have practically the “entire elected leadership of the state” present, a testament to the Council’s organizing action and the importance of the holiday. The Council met beginning in August in preparation for the event, working nonstop the day before to prepare the LC for the crowd.