Dartmouth’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Keynote: Franchesca Ramsey (excerpts)

Dartmouth’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Keynote: Franchesca Ramsey (excerpts)


– Good evening. Thank you for coming out. Is it still 70 degrees out? I was sure it was. My name is Evelynn Ellis.
I’m a member of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior Celebration Committee. I’m also the Vice President
of Institutional Diversity and Equity here at Dartmouth. It is a pleasure that I
get to open this evening of celebration, of reflection,
and growth for us all. But before we start I want to thank, and I want you to help me thank, the Martin Luther King
Junior Celebration Committee. They’re scattered throughout the audience if you could help me thank them for all the incredible work that they do. We always open the celebration with a student speaker or a student leader. And this year, our student
speaker is Chinedum Nwaigw. She’s originally from Newark, New Jersey. And she’s the daughter
of Nigerian immigrants. Chinedum is a senior at Dartmouth majoring in Film & Media Studies, and African and African American Studies. She holds a variety of student leadership positions on campus, including President of
the Afro-American Society, and Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha
Sorority, Incorporated, Xi Lambda Chapter. As a filmmaker and
storyteller, it is her goal to center the Black
experience in her work, and show Black people just how multi-dimensional we are. Please welcome her to the podium. (Applause) – Thank you all for coming out to this evening’s celebration of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. And thank you to Evelynn Ellis and the Office of Institutional
Diversity and Equity for inviting me to deliver
these opening remarks. I am Chinedum Nwaigw and it is and honor to be here
with you this evening. Four years ago, during my freshman winter, I sat in these seats listening
to Kristina Williams, a former senior, speak
about Dartmouth’s failure to better the lives of
its students of color, women, lower class, and queer community. This morning, anticipating the moment I would be called to give the same speech, I called K-Will, my
friend, sister, and mentor, to tell her that the Dartmouth she had spoken so bravely about four years ago is still the same, if not worse. I told her that the administration she called out four years ago for failing to protect women
in fraternity basements is the same administration facing a $70 million dollar lawsuit
for looking the other way when women in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department came forward about their professors’
rampant sexual abuse. If, in four years, I cannot
pinpoint a single instance of meaningful progress
at Dartmouth, how then can I celebrate 250
years of its existence? Much like my Native and
African American peers who do not have the privilege of looking back nostalgically at the past, I cannot bring myself to celebrate Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary. The Abenaki, the tribe
whose land Dartmouth is built on, will not let me. And Brister, Exeter, Chloe, Caesar, Lavinia, Archelaus, Peggy,
and the enslaved child on whose Black bodies
this college was built would anguish at the
sight of such dishonesty. In preparing for this
year’s keynote address, I repeated the theme of
this year’s commemorations, Standing At the Threshold, hoping that it would inspire some powerful message to share with you all, but all I could think about was how long we have been
standing at this threshold. Standing on the cusp of something new. I stand before you today to affirm that it is not enough to stand at the threshold of greatness, and willingly choose to remain there with no sign of forward progression. It is about time that we tipped the scales and seized this moment of change. (Applause)
Thank you. (Applause) Black people’s experiences
at Dartmouth and beyond are too often shaped
by our need to survive. In fact, Dartmouth first introduced me to the concept of a survivor. I remember April 14, 2016 as clear as day. It was 9:00 p.m. and I was heading back to my dorm in the Choates when I received an alert from the Women
of Color Collective reminding people that they were hosting a forum for survivors at the Center for Gender and Student Engagement, known by most as the CGSE. I had assumed this was going to be an inspirational talk hosted by upperclassmen who had persevered at
Dartmouth despite obstacles. It was that, for the most
part, but the obstacles survived in this case
were not the obstacles of poverty, fear, or self-doubt that most college students experience. That night, the common obstacle was the rape and sexual assault
that women of color had experienced on this very campus. That night, I sat in a
circle with all of the women of color I admired
as they each took turns sharing how they survived
assault on this campus. Ever since then, the term
survivor has been repeated over and over and over
again like a mantra. And this is just one facet of survival in an ecosystem and legacy built on pain. Over the course of four
years, we have had to give up several things in order to survive on this campus. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have relinquished the study of our own histories, as our Ethnic Studies Department ceased to exist. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have given up learning from people who look like us as they flee to more supportive institutions. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have lost our sense
of collectivity in that so much of Dartmouth is built on the success of the individual. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have given up friendships formed through joy in favor of bonds
formed through struggle. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have given up our mental health with no chance of recovery due to under staffing at centers like Opal, Collis, and Dick’s House. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have given up our safety as women’s residences have been attacked with impunity as recently
as the Spring of 2017. In the name of a Dartmouth degree, we have given up maintaining our relationships with home, afraid that our families
will know how we suffer. Survival is still not enough. King himself did not survive. There will always be those who sacrifice, but it is those who stand in inaction that keep survivors at the threshold waiting for that moment of change. The time is up. Black women, women of color, poor people, queer and trans people deserve more than survival. Survival is just living on the edge. It does nothing for liberation. As I reflect on the
enduring legacy of Dr. King, I am reminded of how he envisioned a life beyond survival. One that included safety, voting rights, financial freedom, and individual liberty. He was willing to take unpopular stances, and go to great lengths to hold his political leaders
and friends accountable. For those who stand inactive and force survival as a mode of existence, afraid to put themselves on the line, let us remember the
address that Dr. King gave at Spelman College in April of 1960. “Keep moving. For it may well be that the greatest song has not yet been sung. The greatest book has not been written. The highest mountain has not been climbed. Life for none of us has
been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving. If you can’t fly, run. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl. But by all means, keep moving.” At this 250th year mark, we are stuck at the threshold between human compassion and indifference. While many of us struggle
to push beyond survival, we carry the weight of
those who remain stagnant, attempting to drag our peers
and communities to freedom. So, the only question I have today is: Will you stand, or will you move? Thank you, and please welcome Evelynn Ellis back to the stage. (Applause and cheers) – These are not normal times. These are not normal circumstances. These are not normal political actions that we are witnessing on a daily basis. I start our 2019 celebration by reminding us all that this country is possibly in the worst state of repair that we have seen for a while. And definitely a worse state than when I talked to you in January of 2018. I wish I had better news, but better a truth we can challenge and aggressively respond to than a lie that encourages us to put our heads under the sand, when the waves of hostility wash away every ounce of integrity, courage, and moral responsibility
this nation has ever had. If you never had any intention of joining the call to action to reverse the direction of your country, now might be the time to develop focus, intention, and internal fortitude. I fear imagining where
we will be next year if we do not make our voices heard, and our actions reflective of our voices. It is possible that we are more divided as a country now than we were during the American Civil War. As bad as that war was, at least there was some sense of purpose. Even though the purpose was misguided. My opinion of those times
always left me thinking that the warring parties felt that they were protecting something beyond the capitalism of slavery, the privileged lifestyles
of plantation owners, and northerners who benefited
from those plantations. While we can look back now and see all the errors in their logic, not even to mention the moral conflicts with human bondage. Somehow the accepted hate manifesting itself today, a voice any connection to conviction to anything beyond capitalism and hate. My worries might sound harsh to you, but honestly rarely is covered with sweet sentiments that leave us feeling comfortable. We have gathered to
relight candles of hope. And you and your family, your
community, and in our nation lighting candles at this time means voting for people you know have some sense of commitment to all living things. Vote with your dollar. Avoid companies that contribute to modern slavery and servitude. Vote with your feet. Avoiding places in this country that do more to harm humans than help them. And vote with your voice. Open your mouth when you witness things that are wrong even
if you might lose a friend, might lose the support of your colleagues, might even lose your job. However you choose to vote, do it now. In our case, waiting until tomorrow is having unrepairable damage on the lives of millions of people across the country and across the world and damage on this planet we live on. For right now, we’re definitely
standing at a threshold. Tonight, we’re gonna do
some critical thinking. We’re gonna do some healing. No, don’t laugh. And we brought just the right person to take us on that journey. Francesca Ramsey is a
social justice advocate, a comedian, an actress, a
writer, a video blogger. She’s a sought-after speaker, and the host of the award-winning MTV series, Decoded. She has been featured on NPR,
Anderson Live, CNN, the BBC. She’s been in the New York Times, a former writer and a
correspondent for Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. She has also written for BET’s Black Girls Rock, the award show, and she currently has multiple television projects in development. Her first book, Well,
That Escalated Quickly, was published last year. Please help me welcome Francesca Ramsey. (Applause) – I like to talk about social issues in different creative ways that can hopefully reach lots of people. And while this is an animated video about a caterpillar and a snail, it’s also a video about privilege. And privilege is that word that people get really uncomfortable the minute that you say it. And I like to use this illustration because it says look,
we all have privilege. Every single one of us. We’re all different, and we have to actually acknowledge those privileges in order to be sympathetic to the experiences of others. So, for example, I am
an able-bodied person. That means I can probably use any restroom on this campus
without any problem. It is not my fault that there are not many accessible bathrooms on campus. But in order to be sensitive to the fact that we need more
accessibility on campus, I have to say, you know what, that’s not something
I actually think about in my daily life because
I’m an able-bodied person. So, this is the way that I try to introduce those topics
throughout my content. – I think Dartmouth is a place where a lot of people come from
privileged backgrounds, and like, so for people at this school that are sitting in this audience that have sort of taken off the blinders, how do you think those people should positively change the way they interact with the world to sort of, positively influence
their new understanding? – Yeah, there’s an analogy that I use in my book and in my work
a lot about allyship. And the analogy is that I think allyship is a lot like Destiny’s Child; there’s only one Beyonce. And I think that allyship means sometimes you gotta step
back, and you have to let somebody else have the mic. And I think that when you are ready to acknowledge your privilege and realize that you want to be somebody that’s an agent of change, you have to also realize that you can’t center
your voice all of the time. And I think, unfortunately, that happens across all identities. Where you have people who
are like I’ll tell you what it’s like for the gays. And you’re just like,
you’re not gay, shutup. Move out of the way and let somebody else talk about their own experience. And I think we just
need to do more of that. And I think especially
now on a college campus where you are exposed to so
many different identities, there are so many different
groups or organizations that you could either partner with or you can become a member of, or even reaching out to their leadership and saying what is it that you need, how is it that I can support you? Rather than barging in and
saying I’m here to help, I’m asking what is it that you need? Especially because there are spaces that you have access to that I don’t. And I think, especially when it comes to having those difficult conversations, I think, it’s really easy
to have them on campus in the safety of more liberal spaces. It’s a lot harder to have
those conversations at home. And I think that often times
people, it’s very easy, especially because of social media, to have this very performative allyship where you can change your
Facebook profile picture, or you can share all these
articles, and it’s like, okay. The thing that really
bothered me after the election was people making these broad
Facebook posts that were like, if you voted for Trump I wanna tell– I’m like, you know who
it was, like, why are you writing this vague Facebook
post, talk to them. Right? There’s a lot of stuff that, There’s a lot of work
that needs to be done that no one is actually
going to see you do and no one is going to be there to congratulate you or thank you for. And I think you have to be willing to do that work behind closed doors and be okay with not getting
a cookie for that work. You have to be willing
to bake your own cookies, and it can be whatever
kind of cookie you want. I think not centering yourself, having those difficult conversations, and uplifting the voices of people that don’t normally get a chance to have the spotlight or have the mic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Releated