Mercy College celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by honoring his legacy of inspiring service and respect for others, unifying communities and empowering individuals to stand up for positive social change. King fought for equality and human rights for African Americans and other victims of injustice through peaceful means and played a key role in the American civil rights movement.
A powerful orator and leader, King’s words continue to influence so much of what Mercy College’s students, faculty, staff and alumni stand for today – creating the equal opportunity for all students, regardless of their background, to access quality education and achieve success.
Mercy students and faculty members aim to invoke King’s legacy in their everyday lives and scholarship, especially when addressing and processing the challenges of the past year. Julian Sykes ’21, television and media production major, takes lessons learned from King to understand and analyze issues related to the pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement and the current political climate.
“Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a significant day not just for everyone who is of African American dissent, but for everyone in general. That was his goal at the end - he wanted everyone to be equal, everyone to understand each other. Everybody should take the time to reflect on MLK Jr. Day, and what he aimed to instill in us and in our country, especially with everything going on,” said Sykes.
Dana Horton, Ph.D., assistant professor at Mercy College, sees Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a reminder that many of the conversations that went on during the civil rights movement are still relevant today. “A lot of the topics Dr. King addressed in the 1950s and 1960s, such as voting rights, civil rights and class discrimination, are still ongoing conversations,” Horton said. “It’s important we continue to discuss these issues because change and unity happen through dialogue.”
In Horton’s classes – African American literature and Hip Hop literature and culture – she asks her students to write down their impressions of King, an assignment that leads to larger discussion of United States holidays, Dr. King’s impacts, and his strong abilities as an influential communicator and leader. Invoking King’s spirit and legacy, Horton fosters a comfortable environment for her students where they feel secure sharing their perspectives. She ensures students know their voices matter, and in turn encourages them to be open to the thoughts of their peers and practice active, focused listening of others.
“We discuss how Dr. King is great at hitting on the necessary rhetorical devices to capture his audiences. He uses different techniques, such as emotion and logic, to inspire people to act,” Horton explained. “As we know, his quotes are profound, and leave a lasting impact.”
Sykes, one of Horton’s students, recognizes King as an exceptional leader and communicator and practices a similar exercise of reflecting on his influence: “To adopt any of his leadership style would be amazing – you’d be able to inspire so many people. And I think a lot of people need that – someone to rise, inspire and say, ‘everything is going to be all right,’ and I think that’s what Dr. King did so beautifully.”
“My grandfather had a fear of uncertainty – a fear of not knowing what was going to happen to him during the civil rights movement. Having someone like Dr. King listen to the concerns of people like my grandfather – and seeing someone like Dr. King pick themselves up despite hardship – inspired people around him and gave them hope,” Sykes continued.
Sykes and Horton’s thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day represent Mercy’s greater reasoning for taking time to reflect and commemorate his legacy. Now more than ever, it is important to recognize the need for community, peaceful communication and social consciousness, and honor King’s work of advocating for equity and unity.