Benedictine College Part of Memorable MLK Day in Atchison

Dr. Jacqueline Rivers was the keynote for an impressive set of events

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Dean of Students Joseph Wurtz, Director of Student Support and Engagement Tyler Shephard, and College Chaplain Fr. Ryan Richardson lead the MLK Day March from the Atchison Courthouse.There was a full and rich remembrance across Atchison, Kansas, for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16, 2023. The afternoon featured a Walk for Racial Justice and a presentation of the documentary film, “The Evers,” which featured the story of Medgar Evers and interviews with his family. Evers was a field secretary for the NAACP, charged with investigating violence against black people. He was murdered in 1963. The movie presentation at the Fox Theatre in downtown Atchison featured an appearance by Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, one of the original Freedom Riders in the Civil Rights Movement and a friend of Evers.

The evening featured a second march from the Lincoln Memorial outside the Atchison County Courthouse to the Benedictine College campus. Upon arriving on campus, the marchers and others gathered in O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium for another moving and very interesting program. Faculty, staff and students were able to attend both sets of events.

“As the Black Student Union president, my main goal this year is to educate everyone on African American culture and history,” said Kendall Ross, a Benedictine College junior. “The march had a great turnout, and I was happy to see the number of students show up that did. I believe that the students who show up are attempting to bridge that divide between the students of color and everyone else on campus.”

At the evening program, Soloman Wallace, a leader on campus and former president of the Black Student Union, gave an inspirational opening.

“Today we gather to honor one of the most prominent leaders of the American Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “With a powerful legacy that is just as undeniable as it is inspirational, Dr. King was a man of rich faith who sought equality and human rights for not just African Americans, but for all people.”

“Dr. King’s legacy teaches us that we all have a moral and civic duty to be kind and compassionate to one another,” he said. He then introduced the Benedictine College Chamber Singers, who performed a choral number dedicated to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The choir was followed by freshman student Angel Delgadillo. Delgadillo is one of the first students to attend Benedictine College on a full-tuition scholarship through the Freedom Fellows Program, which draws inspiration from King and serves to close equity gaps for historically marginalized student populations.

He introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. Jacqueline Rivers. Rivers is Executive Director of the Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies, a Doctoral Fellow in the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Kennedy School and is a Graduate Research Fellow of the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Jacqueline Rivers speaks at Benedictine College during MLK Day remembrance.

“Dr. Rivers works with leaders in the ecumenical black church to promote philosophical, political and theological frameworks for the pro-life, pro-family movement and has worked on issues of social justice and Christian activism in the black community for more than 30 years,” he said.

Rivers said she would not just talk about Dr. King but wanted mostly to talk about continuing issues he would have been addressing today if he were still alive. She laid out a long history of racism in America and demonstrated that it is still an issue and race still matters.

She started in a surprising place by talking about the recent movie, “Wakanda Forever.” After explaining a bit of the plot, she talked about the ending of the movie as the heroine vanquishes the villain.

“But it’s just a fairy tale,” she said. “A Marvel comic. It isn’t real. And today we are here not to talk about fairy tales, but to talk about truth.”

She said that today, it is hard to know what the truth is due to the proliferation of misinformation. She reminded everyone that Jesus, Himself, was the truth. And she reminded everyone that we don’t need a fairy tale to find wonders in African history; great kingdoms at the height of civilization and monuments and activities that showed a mastery of art, science and engineering.

She noted that science has shown the commonality of the human race.

“There is no clear biological marker to differentiate the races,” said Rivers. “There are no genetic characteristics possessed by all blacks, but not by non-blacks. Similarly, there is no gene or cluster of genes common to all whites, but not non-whites.”

She said 9% of genes account for the visible characteristics associated with race like skin color, hair type and facial features.

“But that doesn’t affect intelligence, morality, criminality, and other things we so often connect with ideas of race,” she said.

Rivers noted the history of racism in America from the founding of the republic, through the Civil War, the Great Depression, the post-World War II era, the Civil Rights Movement, to today.

“(In the early to mid-20th century) Blacks couldn’t get mortgages, they couldn’t get loans to repair homes, they couldn’t build equity in their homes,” she said. To this day, Rivers said there is still a racial divide in net worth. Those who purchased homes and went to college during the New Deal of the 1930s or during the suburban expansion of the 1950s built tremendous equity and were able to get better jobs, while those who were excluded were held back and remained less successful.

Rivers then reminded everyone that there is also good history. America ended slavery. There was a Civil Rights Movement. Segregation was ended.

“These are real accomplishments in American history, but we have to tell the whole truth,” she said. “We have to recognize that racism affects black people in employment and where they live and makes a difference in their lives. And we have to recognize that the government has played a role in creating disadvantages for blacks.”

“But all is not lost,” she continued. “There is much to celebrate, but we have to face the truth,” Rivers said.

“Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. scored a victory for the United States. He was a dedicated leader. He faced danger, hostility and jail. But he did not give up. He fought for racial justice because he recognized the difficulties black people faced.”

Although she acknowledged as part of being truthful that King was not perfect and there are issues of sexual misconduct in his life, his work to inspire others to take up the cause and make a change in the culture of America cannot be denied.

She said today we are called to speak the truth in love by Jesus.

“Jesus is calling us to tell the truth about U.S. history, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “He is calling us not just to tell the truth, but to make sure that our schools teach the truth, to make sure that our children understand what really happened. And that they can see the consequences. They can see that this persists. And that together, we can change it.”

“Jesus promises us that the truth will set us free, and that we will have a victory. Let us tell the truth!”

The evening ended in prayer, led by Father Ryan Richardson, a chaplain at the college.

“In his letter from a Birmingham jail, Dr.  King wrote that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere.’ Lord, convince us tonight to fight against injustice in all its forms but especially against the injustice of racism,” he said. “Send us out from this auditorium as messengers and protagonists of your Gospel message to be true ambassadors of light and hope for our world.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas. The school is honored to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report, the best private college in Kansas by The Wall Street Journal, and one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide. It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging. Benedictine College has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.