4/19/2014 11:36:42 PM

Storytelling and Activism: 2013 MLK Lecture

Thursday, May 02, 2013

By Kristen Bossio '16

For more than 25 years, Siena College has hosted The Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King Lecture Series on Race and Nonviolent Social Change. It was established by Siena College in 1988 to preserve the legacy of the nonviolent human rights movement as it was expressed in the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The lectures bring to light societal issues such as racism, sexism, classism and prejudice.

This year’s lecture commemorated the 45th anniversary of King’s death, April 4, 1968. Author Julia Alvarez headlined the annual event which filled the Marcelle Athletic Complex (MAC) with students, faculty and members of the Capital Region community. Alvarez is best known for her novels “In the Time of the Butterflies” and “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.” She lives in Vermont where she is a writer-in- residence at her alma mater, Middlebury College.

“This year’s lecturer, Julia Alvarez, is a well-loved author and activist who seeks to raise awareness of the plight of the disenfranchised,” said Peter Ellard, Ph.D., chair of the lecture series advisory board and associate vice president of academic affairs. “She helps to remember the poor who live among us. She challenges us to follow in footsteps of both Martin Luther King Jr. and St. Francis of Assisi in our quest for social justice and a more peaceful world.”

Before Alvarez’s speech, Professor of Sociology Paul Murray, Ph.D. asked the audience to stand up and link hands with each other. Members of the Siena College Chorus led the crowd in a sing-a-long of “We Shall Overcome,” a song that Murray called “the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.” Many audience members obliged and the room was filled with hundreds of diverse people joined together through something as simple as a song.

After getting into the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Alvarez engaged the crowd through her lecture titled “Changing the World One Imagination at a Time: Storytelling and Activism.” Alvarez discussed how stories have the power to change us and how nothing human is alien to the pen of a storyteller. 

She asserted that storytelling and activism are deeply linked. “Not only do I believe that the imagination can save us, I think it’s the only thing that can,” said Alvarez.

Throughout her talk, Alvarez told several stories, ranging from tales of princesses to the truth about a little known massacre. Whether a story is true or fictional, Alvarez said that “We recreate the world with [our art].” She closed the lecture by playing the Hispanic equivalent of “We Shall Overcome,” a song called “Brother, Give Me Your Hand.”

“It was a powerful way to end the talk,” said Marybeth Condon ’16. “It kind of brings everything full circle and shows how connected we all really are.”

The 2013 Student Courage Awards and Siena College MLK Recognition Awards were also given out during the event. The Student Courage Awards celebrate young people from grades 6-12 who have demonstrated courage by taking positive action against racism, prejudice, bias-related violence and other forms of intolerance in their communities. New Lebanon Junior-Senior High School sophomore Christine Bienes was awarded first place. Mohonasen High School senior Khrystin Comerford placed second and South Colonie Central High School senior Jason Neal placed third.

The Siena College MLK Recognition Awards honor community members who are living in King’s spirit by promoting nonviolence in addressing issues pertaining to civil and human rights and social justice. This year’s awards honor advocate, activist and documentary producer Ira McKinley, organizer for Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace Trudy Quaif and Joseph’s House & Shelter Executive Director Tracy Neitzel.

Photo Credit: Purificato Photos

Contact: Ken Jubie
Contact E-mail: communications@siena.edu

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