On Jan. 28, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln presented two Fulfilling the Dream awards to members of the UNL community.
The commemorative virtual event was held in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. during the university-wide MLK week organized by the office of Diversity and Inclusion. The award ceremony was headlined by a mediated question-and-answer segment featuring MLK’s daughter, Bernice King, an accomplished orator and the CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.
The 2021 Fulfilling the Dream awards were given to Helen Fagan — a professor at UNL who works with police and the Nebraska Rural Fellows to spread awareness on racial injustice — ands Leonard Yankton — a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe who has worked to bring awareness to indigenous people’s struggles. According to Chancellor Ronnie Green, who introduced the award winners, Yankton was awarded for his multiple outreach efforts and international speaking engagements.
At the beginning of the event, multiple speakers from the university gave thanks to members of the community that have worked throughout 2020 to bring racial inclusion to the forefront of community outreach. The theme of the ceremony and week-long homage was “speak out against all forms of injustice,” and award recipients were nominated by their peers and colleagues based on their commitment to this concept.
Before the awards were officially given, Pamela Dillard, an accomplished professional singer, gave an operatic performance of “Three Dream Portraits,” originally composed by Margaret Bonds. The piece highlighted the struggles of racial inequality and Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream in which all people stand together, regardless of their differences.
After the performance, Chancellor Green introduced Fagan and Yankton, who gave brief acceptance speeches highlighting the importance of conversation, education and awareness in modern-day America. They referenced their respective backgrounds and experiences and how their personal identities growing up motivated them to reach out to other communities.
Two students from the Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts followed the award ceremony with prepared monologues that recognize the struggles of Black men and women in the United States throughout history.
At the conclusion of both performances, Sherri Jones, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences, and Aiah Nour, president of UNL’s African Student Association, introduced Bernice King.
A consistent motif of the conversation was the importance of comparing the struggle for equality in Martin Luther King Jr.’s time and the struggles people of color face today.
When the mediator asked what land-grant universities ought to do to contribute to the fight for equality, Bernice King emphasized offering resources for reeducation based on current social research and findings.
“When we look at the history of the United States of America through a racial and equity lens, there are so many new thought leaders and voices,” Bernice King said. “We are going to have to reeducate people.There’s a lot of missing information, and we would do ourselves a massive disservice if we did not go forward in this massive reeducation campaign.”
She went on to stress the importance of conversation and dignity when it comes to people with differing perceptions. Throughout the conversation, Bernice King referenced the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and how she sees it as a continuation of the work done for equity during the civil rights movement.
“Thank God that these young people didn’t let up. It would have been so tragic if young people would not have galvanized together to say, ‘No more,’” Bernice King said. “We’ve awakened some sleeping giants, and there are people seriously like never before looking to see how we create a more equitable society, and that is because of the people at the forefront of Black Lives Matter.”
After the conversation with Bernice King, the event concluded with a performance by Ron Himes, the founder and producing director of The Saint Louis Black Repertory Company. He performed an excerpt from the play “Blues for Mister Charlie,” which is loosely based on the murder of Emmett Till.
The final remarks of gratitude for all who contributed to the event were given by Charlie Foster, assistant vice chancellor for Inclusive Student Excellence and director of the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services.
Additional information on MLK week at the University of Nebraska Lincoln is available on the official events website.