Each year when Martin Luther King Jr. Day rolls around, a flood of emotions come to mind—celebration, inspiration, motivation and hope to name a few. But this year’s MLK Week theme may appear quite the opposite of these positive sentiments at first.
MLK Week at the U is an annual event that provides the campus community a platform to discuss contemporary civil rights issues and race in America. This year’s theme, “Face everything and rise,” will challenge everyone to redefine the definition of fear and its role in the fight for freedom and equality.
When the 2020 MLK Week planning committee began to ponder what the focus of the week should be, they originally thought of topics associated with joy and positivity. That is until, as committee chair Teshia Griswold-Koffi recalls, one committee member exclaimed, “Wait…this kind of work isn’t easy!”
“In order to better acknowledge the challenges and rigorous work that comes before any celebration, the committee decided to dive deeper into what the journey to victory consists of—the good, bad and ugly,” said Griswold-Koffi.
Throughout the discussion, it became clear that fear is always there when it comes to fighting for change and social justice. The committee concluded that it is impossible to find examples of any successful movement that didn’t involve conquering some kind of fear. This led to the idea of using fear as an acronym and to reposition it as a more useful tool to “face everything and rise.”
“It is imperative to understand that nothing about advocating for civil rights was easy or comfortable,” said Griswold-Koffi. “Fear is real. Danger is real. But if we can challenge ourselves to redefine its purpose and meaning as an integral part of the journey and then overcome it, fear now becomes more of a choice.”
This understanding of what is making us fearful and how that fear affects us takes its power to paralyze away and reshapes it into something that sparks motivation to press on. Revolutionaries like Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit this ability to make tangible steps toward progress while carrying their fears with them—a quality Griswold-Koffi believes is crucial positions of leadership.
“I’m a firm believer that you can always identify an authentic leader based upon how much they are willing to sacrifice for what is right,” said Griswold-Koffi.
In her own experience, Griswold-Koffi has often observed the heavy lifting of a movement done at a grassroots level while those with the power to make change seem too afraid to use their positions. She urges everyone to look to leaders like Aisha Moodie-Mills, the 2020 MLK Week keynote speaker, as examples of leadership making progress while in the company of fear.
This MLK Week, as our campus community reflects on the progress that’s been made and remember the necessary work we still face, the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion hopes everyone will join them in the spirit of harnessing fear and putting it toward a cause they care about.
“We will never move if everyone is standing still,” said Griswold-Koffi.
A full list of MLK Week events can be found here.