UVM celebrates Dr. King’s legacy with keynote speaker
January 31, 2022
UVM hosted “Looking back and looking ahead: Manifesting the dream of inclusive Excellence,” a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Jan. 25 to kick off Black History Month which begins in February.
The celebration in Ira Allen Chapel featured keynote speaker Dr. Damon A. Willams who spoke of Dr. King’s legacy and his compassion and regard for justice and equity. He also emphasized the importance of implementing Dr. King’s ideas into our daily actions and habits.
“I am hoping that today can be the beginning of a journey for the University of Vermont as we seek to live into Dr. King’s legacy in a generative way that is rooted in love, compassion and community,” said Dr. Amer Ahmed, vice provost for the office of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Ahmed said the event wasn’t just to honor Dr. King but also for the UVM community to think about 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 diversity leadership, youth development, corporate responsibility and organizational change, according to the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“I knew that he was one of the only people that could really both honor that legacy of Dr. King and really speak to that well,” Ahmed said. “He could specifically connect that to our direction at UVM on diversity, equity, inclusion and the very specific work and task of strategic systemic change that we’re pursuing as an institution.”
One thing that stuck out to attendee Gabriella Marchesani, a sophomore, was Williams’ analogy of long term versus short term action. Williams compared works towards equity and inclusion to a cheetah.
“Although cheetahs run fast, they don’t run for very long,” Williams said. “A wolf, however, runs for longer periods of time while hunting. Conversations and actions towards equity and inclusion should be long term like the hunting style of the wolf.”
Taking action and truly committing to that action by being consistent over time is crucial to being an ally, Williams said. Williams challenged attendees to ask questions such as “how are you expanding your circle of impact?”
As he wrapped up, Williams brought Dr. King’s words into the realm of higher education and UVM. He spoke about how the majority of UVM students are out-of-state and how they need to prepare to lead, live and serve in a diverse global 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.