UVM hosted “Looking Back and Looking Ahead: Manifesting the Dream of Inclusive Excellence,” a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 25 to kick off Black History Month which begins in February.
The celebration at the Ira Allen Chapel featured keynote speaker Dr. Damon A. Willams, who spoke about Dr. King’s legacy, his compassion and respect for justice and fairness. He also stressed the importance of implementing Dr. King’s ideas in our daily actions and habits.
“I hope today can be the start of a journey for the University of Vermont as we seek to live Dr. King’s legacy in a generative way rooted in love, compassion, and caring. community,” said Dr. Amer Ahmed, Vice President. Provost of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
Ahmed said the event was not just to honor Dr. King, but also for the UVM community to reflect on what it means for us to generate an equitable and inclusive society in a global pandemic.
The DEI recognizes Williams as an expert in strategic leadership in diversity, youth development, corporate responsibility and organizational change, according to the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Division.
“I knew he was one of the only people who could really both honor that legacy of Dr. King and really speak well about it,” Ahmed said. “He could specifically relate this to our focus at UVM on diversity, equity, inclusion and the very specific work and task of strategic systemic change that we pursue as an institution.”
One thing that caught the attention of participant Gabriella Marchesani, a second-year student, was Williams’ analogy between long-term action and short-term action. Williams compared working towards equity and inclusion to a cheetah.
“Although cheetahs run fast, they don’t run very long,” Williams said. “A wolf, however, runs longer when hunting. Conversations and actions towards equity and inclusion should be long-term like wolfhunting style.
Taking action and really committing to that action being consistent over time is crucial to being an ally, Williams said. Williams challenged participants to ask questions such as “how do you expand your circle of impact?”
In closing, Williams brought Dr. King’s words to the realm of higher education and UVM. He explained that the majority of UVM students are out of state and need to prepare to lead, live and serve in a diverse world.
“I think you have an incredible opportunity to be a beacon of inclusive excellence in the higher education sector and in your community,” Williams said.