SHU Hosts MLK Day Celebration and Reflection Event

News Story: January 22, 2016
Guest speaker David E. Kirkland

Dozens of students, faculty and staff gathered at Sacred Heart University this week for a celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., and a time of reflection with guest speaker David E. Kirkland.

Kirkland, executive director of New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools and associate professor of English and urban education, raised questions and told personal stories that allowed the audience to think hard about society and black lives. His talk was titled “The Truth That I Owe You: Making Black Lives Matter in Classrooms.”

“For me this conversation is important,” Kirkland told the audience after he was introduced by English Professor Anita August.

Kirkland began his talk with a specific incident that happened when he was a child living in the “dark urban dungeon,” otherwise known as Detroit in the 1980s. Kirkland said that one day a gang of older boys chased him home after school. He believes it was because he answered a couple of questions correctly in class. “I was running in attempt to find freedom,” Kirkland said.

But when he finally made it home, what he saw wasn’t a happy sight—a man was slapping his mother, a prostitute. Kirkland ran to his room to cry and eventually his mother joined him on his bed and cried herself to sleep.

This story was just one of the many tragic things Kirkland lived through. But Kirkland believes that society can change how it treats people, including black lives, so they can move past stereotypes and effectively engage black lives.

Kirkland shared the statistics surrounding black youth, including high suicide rates, below-grade level literacy rates and death by law enforcement. Many black youths also suffer from social trauma, toxic environments and hopelessness just as Kirkland did growing up. “We need to create an opportunity for people to heal,” Kirkland said.

For this to happen, Kirkland said society has to tailor to the needs of the individual and think of innovative ways to reach children in the classrooms.

During the question-and-answer session, Kirkland said he was homeless and lived on the streets of Detroit for a year. His grandmother took him in and supported him in a warm environment that allowed him to thrive. Teachers also took an interest to him and led him down the right path, he said.

After Kirkland’s talk the audience heard powerful poems from Tarishi “Midnight” Shuler, including one about racism. They also listened to SHU sophomore Wendy Estavien sing the Black National Anthem.

“I thought it was very eye-opening,” said Samantha O’Brien ’17. She is majoring in psychology and enrolled in SHU’s education program.

O’Brien said hearing the statistics surrounding black youth, including the low literacy rates, was concerning. With the desire to become a teacher, she hopes to change that. 

MLK Day 1/21/16