Southern Virginia University Concludes Week of Commemoration for Martin Luther King Jr.
Following Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Southern Virginia University held a special forum on Friday to conclude a week-long commemoration of the civil rights leader’s life and teachings.
Students, faculty and staff gathered in the Knight Arena, where Chief of Staff Brett Garcia, student Victoria Kargbo, alumnus Michael Frye and Professor of History David Cox each shared thoughts and stories about Dr. King’s teachings and legacy.
Ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day, university leaders invited all members of the campus community to read Dr. King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” and discuss his teachings in classes and meetings during the week.
Garcia noted that Southern Virginia ranks second in the nation for the average distance traveled by students to attend a college, ahead of schools like West Point, Harvard or Stanford, resulting in a diverse gathering of students from many different places and backgrounds.
“No matter your experience before coming here, we’re all here now, and the whole point of gathering is not just to gather; the whole point of gathering is lifting,” Garcia said, referencing Southern Virginia’s theme of gather, lift and launch.
“When we deride, degrade and mistreat people because of their differences, we are choosing actions that are contrary to the Savior’s teachings,” he said. “Often these things are done unintentionally, sometimes because we haven’t had a lot of life experiences that have taught us how to properly interact with people who are different than we are. Other times such actions are meant to be jokes. Sometimes, unfortunately, such actions are intentional and meant to hurt. But regardless of the intent, those actions are always hurtful and are not correct.”“Ultimately, I think that Dr. King was talking about being better disciples of Jesus Christ,” Garcia continued. “We should try harder to love one another, and when we fall short, we should acknowledge our mistakes and commit to being better going forward. In this way we lift ourselves and we lift others.”
Kargbo, a senior from Alabama studying psychology and a founding member of Southern Virginia’s Black Student Union, shared stories and lessons from her mother, who grew up in Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement.
According to Kargbo, her mother and others in the community overcame obstacles they faced, including discrimination in school, by uniting and choosing to take a stand when it mattered.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend,” Kargbo said, quoting Dr. King. “I have tried to do the same thing that my mother set forth: taking up the teachings of Martin Luther King, being united, being a disrupter for good and setting a legacy.”
Alumnus Michael Frye (’17), was the founder of the Southern Virginia’s Black Student Union. He now works at the University as the student success coordinator, assistant Title IX coordinator and a running backs coach for Knights football team.
“Our mission as a Black Student Union is that we want to see different perspectives, and we want to share our perspective,” Frye said, inviting members of the university community to attend their meetings. “We’re all about learning, loving and just appreciating people.”
Frye shared stories about his father, who grew up in and around Washington D.C. during the civil rights movement and was one of few African Americans in his high school.
“He repeatedly dealt with people cursing at him or throwing trash on the basketball court,” Frye said. “And this wasn’t just opposing fans, these were home fans. He would encourage his teammates to stay inside and to let him come out [onto the court] first so that he could get all the boos, and they wouldn’t have to deal with it.”
Frye quoted his father’s words to him about the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.: “I loved people who attacked me, although I always wanted to fight back. I knew there would be light that would shine soon. Even if you don’t see eye-to-eye with someone, you love them, you respect them, and you show them they matter.”
“Because of Dr. King’s teachings, because of what he did, I live in peace as a husband, I live in peace as a father, and I live in peace as a man—it wouldn’t have been possible [before],” Frye concluded. “And because of my father continuing to keep those teachings and blessing the name of these teachings, I am in this situation [I am in today].”
Dr. David Cox, who served as a rector in the Episcopal Church prior to coming to Southern Virginia to teach history in 2006, spoke about Dr. King’s teachings on love and forgiveness.
“How do we love our enemies? First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love,” Cox said, quoting Dr. King.
“Forgiveness doesn’t undo wrong,” Cox said. “It doesn’t shield from consequences. It doesn’t negate the necessities of justice. What it does is humanize, to recognize the other as a child of God.”
Cox challenged students to reflect on how they can be a force for good in the future.
“How will you help to open eyes? How will you help to bring our nation to uphold the ideals that our founding documents and people like Martin Luther King challenged us to uphold?” Cox asked. “We have heard stories today of people who have changed lives and hearts, opened eyes and changed thereby our country. You can, too. You can, too.”
The forum concluded with a video of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” address he delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on Aug. 28, 1963.