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MLK Jr. Day Speaker Eddie Glaude Jr. Emphasizes the Importance of Recognizing Struggles Faced in Fight for Racial Justice

COURTESY OF PHILLIPS ACADEMY

Honest acknowledgment of the truths of the past is necessary for ending racial injustice in America, according to Eddie Glaude Jr., Chair of Princeton University’s Department of African American Studies and author of “The New York Times” bestseller “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.” During the special All-School Meeting (ASM) for Andover’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day programming on January 17, Glaude examined challenges the nation faces and has faced when combating racial injustice.

Bridget Tsemo, Instructor in English and Director of Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD), who opened the ASM with a discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy, worked to help organize the day’s events and identify this year’s keynote speaker.

“[Glaude] made a major impact on the nation during the ‘racial pandemic’ that took place in 2020 when he spoke against injustice on MSNBC. He seemed the right choice for our school community, then and now. In his writing and speaking, Glaude is an American critic in the tradition of James Baldwin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, confronting history and bringing our nation’s complexities, vulnerabilities, and hope into full view,” wrote Tsemo in an email to The Phillipian.

Rachel Bong ’23 highlighted the power of Glaude’s message, particularly how Glaude described justice as an ongoing effort instead of an end to be reached.

“Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.’s words had so much power and truth. I really liked how he said that justice isn’t an end, it is a practice because it reminds us that fighting social injustice takes time and persistence. I also loved music performances by Black composers [at] the beginning of ASM,” said Bong.

Glaude’s presentation began by reflecting on the huge ongoing crisis across the nation: the ever-increasing divide between Americans. Glaude believes that, under the false mask of freedom, selfish disagreements amongst us are further dividing the country.

“This year’s celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy occurs against the backdrop of the nation in crisis. Americans are divided. And those divisions go well beyond ideological differences. They cut to the marrow of the bone. And we find ourselves, still, especially here, mired in debates about liberty and our responsibility to each other, selfishness and greed masquerading as freedom,” said Glaude.

Instead of praising MLK Jr.’s achievements and recounting the influence he had in the effort for African-American Rights, Glaude shared instances of King’s struggles when fighting for racial justice. He gave an example of when King admitted in his speech that “White America was not ready for genuine racial equality,” on February 23, 1968, several years after his renowned “I Have a Dream” speech.

“​​This is a picture of Dr. King that doesn’t often come into view on this day. We like to think of him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, hands outstretched and free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last. But that is the fairy tale that calls, that is the fairy tale that secures our innocence and ensures a quiet slumber keeps us from looking at the full scope of his life. And [that is] why during those last days, King struggled so mightily to see through the darkness that was this country,” said Glaude.

According to Glaude, the purpose of MLK Jr. Day is not only to commemorate King’s achievements but also to comprehend the despair he felt. Glaude then went on to encourage students to live by King’s message and aspirations.

“Our task on this day, your task on this day, is not to simply lift up the symbol of Dr. King and pat yourselves on the back for doing so. Your task is to understand the fullness of his life’s message to grab hold, not only of his commitment to non-violence and his invocation of love, but to understand fully the depth of his despair at the end of his life, and what he and the movement, out of which he comes, called us to be,” said Glaude.

To close off the discussion, Glaude spoke to the Andover community about what everyone needs to do to combat racial injustice in the world. He stated that in order to ensure a “sense of connection” and harmony, people will have to get rid of the status quo and certain privileged ideas.

Glaude said, “We must finally leave behind this idea that this country belongs to some people because the color of their skin matters more than others. We have to tell ourselves a different story about who we are and what we have done. We have to allow every human being to dream their dreams, no matter the color of their skin, no matter the agenda, no matter their zip code, no matter who they love, no matter the ability, we need to lift up this idea that God has called all of us into the world.”