Speakers encourage others to ‘Rise Up, Take Action’ on MLK Day

On Jan. 15, Fort Collins residents joined Colorado State University faculty, staff and students to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the annual community march.

Gathering in Old Town Square, participants enjoyed complimentary donuts and coffee on a snowy morning, comparing signs and chatting with one another about why they chose to gather that morning.

“I felt like there are a lot of things in society that are upsetting me right now,” said Hannah McKee, a sophomore studying Equine Sciences. “I’m tired of sitting around watching everything happen. I want to get involved, meet new people and discuss different viewpoints.”

Jaelyn Coates
Coates gives the charge

Student delivers charge

Jaelyn Coates, a second-year graduate student in the Student Affairs and Higher Education program, kicked off the event with the annual charge. Coates is heavily involved on campus with CSU’s Parent and Family Programs, Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Office of the Vice President for Diversity and the Black/African-American Cultural Center.

“It’s time to speak radically, it’s time to listen radically, to write radical ideas, to read the radical ideas of others, to show up radically, to march radically, to give back radically and to dream radically,” Coates said.

Before starting the march with CSU President Tony Frank and keynote speaker Rev. Jamie Washington, Coates urged those at the event to think about the importance of being radical. She encouraged participants to continue marching, continue speaking up when they believe something is wrong, and not get discouraged when efforts take more than one try.

‘Recreate our world’

“In a time of so much uncertainty, pain, violence, fear and divide … now more than ever it is necessary for us to reimagine and then recreate our world,” Coates said. “We should engage with one another about the injustices that permeate our daily lives; we must take the time to reflect on the privileges we own and take the time to learn how to show up for one another.”

Participants started at the south end of Old Town Square, then walked down College Avenue to the Lory Student Center at CSU. During the opening musical performance, Anthony P. McGlaun and Kenny Moten Jr. interacted with the audience and sang songs of inspiration.

Devin Jones, a senior studying Communication Studies, delivered a short spoken-word poem telling his story, which received a standing ovation from the audience.

Challenge and controversy

During his remarks, Frank quoted from one of King’s sermons: “The ultimate measure of a man is not what he does in a time of comfort and convenience. But it’s what he does in the face of challenge and controversy.”

“Those of us who have marched together over these years, who come from positions of power and privilege, if we’re honest, we note that we’ve marched in relative comfort and convenience,” Frank said. “And yet, challenge and controversy have found us. They have come knocking on our door in the form of symbols of hate, hate speech and racism, crawling out from under the rock where it has been hiding, dressed for a new day, in new clothes, but unable to hide its true character.”

Tony Frank MLK Day
Tony Frank addresses the crowd in the LSC.

He added that we may soon be measured by how we respond to that challenge and controversy as a community. Then Frank introduced Washington, an internationally recognized trainer and consultant on diversity, leadership and organizational change.

“It’s because of people like him that I believe that come what may, we will stand together as a community, and we will march,” Frank said. “We will march to remember, we will march to demonstrate resolve, and we will march to create change, so that together, shoulder to shoulder, our actions will stand up to our measurement.”

A bold, expansive vision

Washington asked participants about why they chose to do something that day, why they made the effort to come and share their ideas about addressing injustice. He then encouraged members of the audience to meet someone new and discuss why they decided to attend the celebration and how they can continue to do this work after Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Rev. Washington addressing MLK
Washington delivers his keynote speech.

“It is important for us today to recognize the power of Dr. King’s vision, recognize that it was bold and expansive,” Washington said. “He also said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Washington challenged the audience to not think about King’s work as work done only for specific populations, but for everyone. Without that distinction, he said, it’s easy to miss the chance to “rise up and take action,” which was the event’s theme.

“Wake up before you rise up; recognize your identities to then help others be recognized,” Washington said.

After the keynote speech, audience members were invited to break out and engage in social justice conversations ranging from primary education to civic engagement.