University holds luncheon to honor King’s legacy
Tom Naatz | Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Community members gathered Monday in the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center for a luncheon celebrating the legacy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Serving as a culmination of the University’s third annual Walk the Walk Week — which promotes diversity and inclusion on campus — the event featured thoughts and insights from a handful of community members. The keynote address was a conversation between former student body president and 2017 alumni Corey Robinson and his father, former NBA basketball player David Robinson, about King’s impact on the world.
Ann Firth, chief of staff to University President Fr. John Jenkins, welcomed attendees to the luncheon with a description of the goal Walk the Walk Week hopes to attain.
“As you know, this luncheon and the numerous campus events planned during Walk the Walk Week … are all designed to be occasions when we come together to reflect more deeply on who we are as a community,” Firth said. “These are also critically important opportunities to participate in the national and global conversations about diversity and inclusion. Conversations that are as important now as ever.”
After reading a quote from King emphasizing love, community and reconciliation, Firth said Notre Dame aims to achieve King’s vision of an inclusive community.
“Dr. King is describing the kind of community we seek to be at Notre Dame: one that recognizes the dignity of every member, welcomes each person fully, treasures their gifts as a reflection of God, supports them and shares their struggles,” Firth said. “As an academic community, we strive to explore, discuss and celebrate differences, as well as commonalities, thus enriching our grasp of truth and understanding.”
Sophomore and president of the Muslim Student Association, Hosnia Somadi, offered the invocation. She read two verses from Quranic surahs in Arabic before explaining their significance. She said both verses related to justice, particularly the idea that all of humans, regardless of belief, can be united through God. Somadi said she encourages the audience to find peace.
“I am very honored to be here today. I would like to end off asking of you all to keep in mind Islam, among all faiths, is one that encompasses peace and love,” Somadi said. “And I ask of you all today to keep this peace and love in all of your hearts, for we are all the children of God.”
After a pause in programming for lunch, the ceremony continued with a video in which various members of the community, including students, faculty, administrators and staff, were asked, “What are you doing to advance Dr. King’s legacy on campus?”
In the video, director of campus ministry Fr. Pete McCormick said King’s work certainly possessed a spiritual dimension.
“He was a man who clearly had reflected on the scriptures, a man who deeply cared about what those scriptures led him to,” McCormick said. “As a priest certainly, as someone who is tasked with preaching on this campus, thinking about ‘How can I bring those very same words to life?’ But more practical for us all, ‘How is it that we can be invited into those same words, into those same texts that are so sacred, that led Dr. King to imagine a world that could be?’”
During another segment of the video, director of admissions Bob Mundy discussed King’s legacy as it related to universities and higher education. Because he was the first in his family to attend college, Mundy said higher education is a great avenue for “social change and social opportunity” that King helped expand access to education.
“Dr. King reminds us that that access is not always equally available” Mundy said. “An exciting part of my work at Notre Dame is I get to help students find that opportunity … and have them come here and enjoy the benefits of a terrific education.”
The final segment of the luncheon then began as Fr. Jenkins took the stage to introduce Corey and David Robinson, the two keynote speakers. However, before he did so he took a few moments to offer his own remarks on King. Referring to quote from King in which the civil rights leader warned against the dangers of “social stagnation,” Jenkins said the purpose of the luncheon involves unity.
“It is in the spirit of resisting social stagnation that we suspend classes today and come together to reflect on the King legacy and on the ways we continue to make progress in our community and in our world,” Jenkins said.
The conversation between the Robinsons then commenced, and David Robinson said his father, who grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas in the 1950s, had the opportunity to be a member of the “Little Rock Nine,” who integrated the city’s schools, but declined the offer. Corey Robinson said David’s father, his grandfather, also had the opportunity to play basketball at the University of Arkansas but ultimately decided against it because of the school’s segregated facilities. David Robinson said his mother grew up in segregated Columbia, South Carolina, and had to be bused every day to an African American school on the other side of town.
David Robinson, a graduate of the Naval Academy and community icon in San Antonio — where he played for the San Antonio Spurs — said he views grace and mercy as the most important parts of King’s legacy.
“Martin Luther King is really an icon. For me, he is the perfect picture of a man who, motivated by his faith, stepped out into the world and moved and made a difference,” David Robinson said. “And he practiced grace and mercy. And that’s my challenge to my boys, to myself every day. Practice grace and mercy. Those are two things I think we’re having trouble with now in this country.”
Asked by his son to offer a more specific definition of both “grace” and “mercy,” David Robinson said it was important to break expected behaviors in the two concepts.
“To me, grace … is giving kindness to people even though they don’t deserve it,” David Robinson said. “And then mercy is not punishing someone for something that they actually do deserve. That’s obviously another concept that’s a challenge … Those two things I think are really key.”
David Robinson said the difficulties his parents faced during their upbringings paved the way for grace and mercy to become critical parts of his life growing up. After David Robinson related the story of his own grandfather — who worked in a post office for decades but was never promoted because of the color of his skin and who ultimately sued over the issue — Corey Robinson reflected on the progress that has been made over the ensuing generations.
“Within a couple generations, I went to Notre Dame and got this opportunity,” Corey Robinson said. “It’s just an unbelievable turnaround over three generations … and I think it has to do in part with my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents in choosing mercy and grace over hate and choosing to see the opportunity and building that environment.”
David Robinson said he founded a private school in San Antonio, Texas, Carver Academy, with the goal of helping underprivileged students get into and enroll in college. Currently, after partnering with IDEA Public Schools, David has helped open 61 charter schools across Texas. He said he recently attended an event where graduates of these schools announced where they were going to college. He said watching the students, half of whom are first generation college students, was an “amazing deal.”
As the talk drew to a close, David Robinson evaluated the progress American society as a whole has made on these issues.
“America is an ideal — we’re not even close to what we say we are, ‘the home of the free’ and ‘the land of the brave,’” David Robinson said. “We’re not even close. But we’re getting there. We’re changing. We’re practicing. We’re getting better. We’re treating each other a little bit better. Over the years, we’ve grown up as a country. And we continue to grow up and we have a system that allows change. That allows us to grow into being America, being the bastion of the world. And we have the potential to be, but we’re not who we say we are. We have to continue to grow. So, for me it’s all about just day by day just … practicing grace.”
David Robinson closed he believes this generation has the potential to change the world.
“The world is changing so fast,” David Robinson said. “You guys have an incredible access to information and opportunity. I think your generation will impact this world more than all the generations past. And you have an opportunity to do some amazing, positive things. Or not.”