Rodman King

September 1, 2014
Professor Rodman King

Hello I would like to thank President Gearan, Provost Ufomata, my faculty colleagues, and all of the members of the HWS community (students, staff, parents, Trustees, and others) for the opportunity to speak with you today.  

I want to pose a direct question to all of us:  Where do we go from here?  Now on first blush this may appear to be a rather mundane question.  Many of you already know where you are going after Convocation.  Some of you are going to dinner.  Some you are going to study.  Others of you are going home.   Some are going to try to beat Destiny on the Xbox one (that is most likely what my sons are doing right now), and so forth. 

However, I am asking a much deeper question that requires a much better answer.  It is a question that calls on us to deeply reflect on ourselves, on others, on our community, and on the world around us.  It is this more profound question that Martin Luther King Jr. asked in his fourth (and final) book. It is a question that is as relevant today as it was in 1967.   I might even go so far as to say that our answers to this question are even more important now than they were forty-nine years ago. 

In order to answer this question we must be honest about where are now as a nation, as a community (here in Geneva and at HWS), and as individuals (on our respective life journeys).  Like Dr. King we live in a very diverse, complicated, and complex world.  On one hand, great and impressive strides have been made in the pursuit of justice.  Barriers have been broken and hard fought victories have been won.  In many ways we have sown the seeds of tolerance and understanding in the fertile soil of Love and reaped the harvest of justice and Unity. 

However, on a daily basis, we are also confronted by a world that shocks us with its sheer brutality and callousness.  We read, watch, and witness horrific acts of violence, malice, and intolerance in the Ukraine, in Gaza, in Ferguson, Mo., and even right here in Geneva, N.Y. 

It is in this context that we - you and I…all of us – must become aware of the fact that our individual beliefs, actions, and inactions are woven together with those of others to form the tapestry of our common destiny.  We can through our beliefs, actions, or inactions contribute to the suffering and brutality of this world.  We could join the chorus of voices that spew out vitriol and fan the flames of intolerance, that blame the poor for their poverty, that condemn the victim for their victimization, that judge the sick for their illness, and blame the oppressed for their oppression.  We could delight in invalidating their protestations by reducing it to playing a card (e.g., the race card).  We could rest easy on our privilege and power and wrap ourselves in warm blankets of ignorance, prejudice, and hubris.

Conversely, we can through these same means (our beliefs and actions) promote the flourishing of individuals and communities (near and far).   We can actualize the promise of our future.  We (faculty, staff, students, parents, trustees, alumni and alumnae, and members of the community) have the power to rebuild, revitalize, and restore our communities.  We can direct our effort, energy, time, and excellences to community agencies, NGOs, local governments, volunteer opportunities, and other individual efforts.  Where these things do not exist we can create them. 

We can dispel the darkness of ignorance, bigotry, violence, hatred, and prejudice.  We can make this community (and others like it) into a place where everyone is an ally and partner in the struggle.  Where full inclusion and participation for all is the rule not the exception.  We can create and support educational programs that promote awareness and inspire empathy and action.  We have the power to dismantle those structures and institutions in our communities that foster and re-inscribe privilege, prejudice, and hate.   We have the power to free our communities of violence, racism, ageism, sexism, able-ism, and all forms discrimination, oppression, and marginalization.   So that no one must dwell in the basement of the great house of humanity. 

Where do we go from here?  I ask you to have the strength and courage to go with me so that we (faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, alumnae, parents, and other community members) together can to do this work.  So that we together can educate and learn; So that we together can cry and give comfort; So that we together can struggle and bring be peace; So that we together can transform our lives, our communities, and our world; So that the promise of our future becomes the present reality.

Thank you.