February 16, 2005

Yolanda King Captivates Cornell at Sage

Print More

She calls it “edutainment.” Actress, public speaker and eldest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Yolanda King gave a combination lecture-performance entitled “Open My Eyes, Open My Soul: Discovering the Power of Diversity,” last night at Sage Chapel.

A speech to commemorate Dr. King in the beginning of spring semester has become a Cornell tradition. Ms. King was chosen as this year’s speaker because she “provides a distinctive perspective on Dr. King’s legacy,” and because of her ability “to be both motivational and inspirational,” said Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work and chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee.

“My father was a king; not the kind who wore a crown, but who crowned a movement,” Ms. King said in her opening recitation of a poem about her father’s legacy. Throughout her talk, Ms. King intertwined performance pieces. At different points in the program, she played a rap artist, a little girl sitting in the front of a public bus for the first time, the victim of a police dog attack on civil rights protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, and the legendary Rosa Parks herself.

“Less than one percent of our DNA separates any one person from another. Less than one percent of your DNA is separating you from that person sitting next to you … [or from] Martha Stewart, Adolf Hitler [or] … that homeless person on a park bench,” Ms. King said. Calling on Cornell students to celebrate their differences, Ms. King said “only 40 years ago, the ugly signs of segregation surrounded us … here we are in 2005, all 6.4 billion of us, forming this colorful work called humanity.”

When asked if he felt that ethnically-themed program houses like Ujamaa limit the racial interaction Ms. King discussed, President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 said, “I think it is very important that everyone experience an ebb and flow of people who are similar to [and different] themselves. It falls to us to share our differences with one another.”

Educational facilities have a “mandate” to promote diversity, Ms. King said. Students should “teach and tell” their stories.

On the topic of affirmative action and the possibility that it might be used to diminish the accomplishments of minority students, Ms. King told The Sun “the fact is, we still have a ways to go. Affirmative action is a solution tool but it is not perfect by any means … in some places it has been used as a divisive tool.”

Ms. King also commented on the Bush administration.

“What the Bush administration has done is reach out to faith communities, which makes me a little nervous … we’ll see what happens with those alliances,” Ms. King said.

In a press conference before her speech, Ms. King summarized the importance of her speaking: “because the current, traditional-aged college students were not alive in my father’s time, [my speaking] allows students to feel like they were there.”

Student reactions to Ms. King’s presentation were generally favorable.

“I thought Yolanda King was absolutely outstanding. No part of that was boring. She had me captivated and energized,” said Chibuzo Emenari ’05.

The reaction was positive among non-students, as well.

“I think she brings amazing energy to her performance,” said Robert Harris, vice provost for diversity and faculty services.

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun Senior Writer