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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 19, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

News

MLK Day celebration includes discussions of police brutality

After recent events involving police brutality throughout the country, Ithaca College students and faculty made a point to discuss the importance of bringing together police and children in a positive way.

This topic made its way into numerous events throughout the college’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration Jan. 19. One workshop in particular discussed a new potential solution to inequality, specifically police brutality.

Associate professor of history Jonathan Ablard facilitated the workshop titled, “Where do we start? Racial profiling and change(d) relations on campus and in the community.” Patricia Rodriguez, associate professor in the Department of Politics, and Micah Martorell, a local Tompkins County activist, joined Ablard in leading the discussion.

Martorell told the group about the urgency for police to be acquainted with the residents of the town. He said this will allow police to be less aggressive when they see kids hanging out in the street.

Furthermore, the group discussed the importance of bringing this method to campus. Specifically, sophomore Jasmine Gayle said she would like Public Safety to speak with students on campus to help the students understand Public Safety’s job.

Rodriguez said the group worked toward a new way of solving problems, specifically that of strengthening the community.

“I think that maybe the link between all of these conversations is this idea of how to begin to think about issues here at IC with issues in the community, with bringing more people into the conversation that are the people that are affected, but are also people that want to be engaged in something and building some different way of working together,” she said.

Junior student participant Fiyin Adeyemo said this discussion was particularly important now, considering the recent events involving police brutality, but said the topic is still difficult to tackle with so many opinions involved.

“I think it’s important in light of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and Mike Brown,” Adeyemo said. “I think the topics were good topics to explore. It’s hard to give my stance on it because everyone comes from a different background and perspective, and it’s hard to come up with a collective, universal solution or truth to everything. But I think there was a general understanding of every person’s idea, and I think they were valid to a point.”

Another workshop featured the hashtag used commonly to protest incidents of police brutality: #BlackLivesMatter. The workshop was titled “And What if Black Lives Don’t Matter?” Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, predoctoral diversity fellow at the college, spoke about racism, referring to a piece called “The Dark Mountain Project,” which consists of writers and artists telling of social and political crises that they feel are not perceived rightly by the mainstream.

Sophomores Sarah Logsdon and Katrina Clark attended the workshop and said they were originally hooked by its title.

“We went to this one and we looked at the other sections and we were like, ‘What does she mean? Why wouldn’t black lives matter,’” Logsdon said. “That was just the most intriguing title I’ve ever seen, and the description was so off-putting, it made me feel uncomfortable reading the description.”

Following the workshops, students, faculty and others from the Ithaca community gathered in the Emerson Suites for the final celebration, featuring gender equality activist Ash Beckham, best known for her TED Talk, “Coming Out of Your Closet.”

The college’s MLK Scholars opened the celebration with a presentation about their civil rights tour, during which the group traveled to historical sites, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birth Home in Georgia, as well as Alabama to further explore the history they learned in class about the Civil Rights Movement. Beckham later praised the presentation.

“It’s so incredible to so clearly and unequivocally see all those people are the leaders of tomorrow,” Beckham said. “They are literally going to change the world, the people on that stage. I was so incredibly impressed with their poise and dedication and vulnerability and willingness to say things that are hard and do things that are hard.”

The celebration continued with Beckham’s speech, which focused on the phrase “Give Voice to Your Truth.” She told a story of how she would use a tampon to defend herself in the women’s restroom against others who mistook her for a male and told her she did not belong.

“I was hiding behind a tampon,” she told the audience.

The statement turned into a question of “What is your tampon?” Beckham asked the audience to think about what they are hiding behind and what is their truth.

The encouragement Beckham received from the audience did not go unnoticed by the speaker. She said it was one of the best audiences she has ever had.

“If I could package up the Ithaca College Martin Luther King Day celebration audience and take them with me everywhere and plant them, I would be a better speaker for just having the self-confidence that comes from having a rapport with people that are like, ‘Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, yeah,’” Beckham said.

The annual celebration of MLK Day at Ithaca College has changed the perspective of some students, like freshman Emma Sheinbaum. She said before coming to Ithaca College, she saw MLK Day as simply another day off of school.

“At home I felt like there was nowhere for me to do anything, and here I feel like there are so many opportunities to get involved and actually celebrate the day,” Sheinbaum said.

Maura Aleardi can be reached at maleardi@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @maurabugara