WSU President Floyd spoke about his experiences growing up in segregated North Carolina.
By Kaitlin Gillespie
WSU faculty and students attended the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Celebration Thursday. Speakers from the university and city of Pullman praised King’s work and community members were recognized for their work to improve the lives of minorities.
Senior economics major and chairman of the Black Student Union Steven Williamson acted as master of ceremonies during the celebration.
“On January 17, 2011, our nation will celebrate the anniversary of the birth of one of America’s greatest heroes,” he said. “This afternoon’s celebration will celebrate in words and music the work and leadership of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.” God’s Harmony Gospel Choir, a student group, performed “Wade in the Water,” a traditional African-American spiritual song, and faculty jazz ensemble Nighthawk performed an original composition by Regents Professor Gregory Yasinitsky.
Felicia Gaskins, associate vice president of equity and diversity, said WSU has celebrated MLK Day since it began in 1986. She said WSU’s recognition of the holiday has always focused on students, staff and youth who “live out Dr. King’s legacy” by serving the community.
Mayor Glenn A. Johnson and City Supervisor John Sherman presented at the event, and both emphasized the importance of community service in King’s message.
“It is a commitment from all of us that we are going to struggle in any way we can to make this a better country and a better community,” Sherman said. “He talked about each city improving and letting freedom ring from each city within this great country.” University President Elson S. Floyd was the keynote speaker at the event, and was introduced by Reanna Roby of the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA).
Roby said Floyd has helped initiate remarkable achievements for the university, and is leading WSU to a high level of excellence and service.
Floyd led attendees in a moment of silence for the victims of the Arizona shooting before discussing the accomplishments of King.
Floyd said he grew up in a segregated North Carolina, and it was because of his family and community that he was able to pursue higher education.
“As the first in my family to attend college, I have felt that it has been my responsibility and my obligation to make sure that I do everything I can to create the same types of opportunities and advantages that I enjoyed,” he said.
Floyd also said education is continuing to play an increasing role in the 21st century economy, and said diversity is playing a larger role in encouraging a healthy economy. African-American students, he said, only graduate high school at a rate of 78 percent, 14 percent behind Asian-Americans and 10 percent behind Caucasians.
“These are troubling trends, and we must do all that we possibly can to curtail them,” he said. “You see, I believe fundamentally that we must as a society do a better job in preparing our high school students for the rigor of college.” Several community members were honored at the celebration with the Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award for their leadership and active participation in diversity-related projects in Pullman.
Professor of education Paula Groves Price was honored for her work developing leadership and academic skills for Native American youth. Diversity Education Director Jeff Guillory was recognized for his work with empowering student athletes. Speech and hearing sciences major Khadra Haro was recognized for her work with recruiting minorities to WSU, as well as human development major Autumn Nicole Jones for working directly with incoming students. The Association of Pacific and Asian Women received the award for its coordination of its annual Building Bridges program.
“Remember that the chain is no stronger than its weakest link,” Floyd said. “I urge you to evaluate how strong you are in the chain of human kind, and to do all that you can to strengthen the bonds that connect us.”