MLK Convocation celebrates Dr. King, identity and social progress

The audience sat still, eager and attentive. All eyes were fixed on the speaker. When he finally began, his words cut through the air. Strings of radiant imagery became real and tangible as he read them, and when he was done, thunderous applause filled the room.

For those in attendance, Georgia State’s 31st annual MLK Convocation wasn’t just a campus event. It was an affirmation of identity and a celebration of social progress.

Acclaimed poet Richard Blanco, inaugural poet for President Obama’s second term of office, graced the audience as the afternoon’s keynote speaker.

Blanco, an openly gay Cuban-American, interspersed recitations of his own work with commentary. He reflected on home, identity and acceptance, resonating with the words Dr. King spoke decades ago.

Blanco specifically referred to the line, “I have a dream, we keep dreaming,” from his inaugural poem “One Today.”

”I wanted to honor that moment and that day as a subtle no to Dr. King,” Blanco said. “The dream never ends. Every generation has new struggles and every generation therefore begets new dreams.”

Throughout his presentation, Blanco recounted his history of searching for a home, something he found particularly difficult as a Cuban-American who was born in Spain. Further complicating his quest for a home was the struggle to find acceptance as a gay man.

“What did a pudgy Cuban gay kid have to do with MLK? Everything,” Blanco said. “His legacy is timeless. [It’s] across race, gender and sexuality. It’s across everything.”

Richard Blanco speaking at the MLK Convocation
Richard Blanco speaking at the MLK Convocation

Blanco also spoke of the immortality of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, remembering when he heard the words as a child. Though he was inspired, he couldn’t understand why at the time. All he knew then was that he was hearing something “beautiful, important and amazing.” He said that to this day he reflects on King’s message.

Along with Blanco, Georgia State students and faculty found honor in the celebration of Dr. King.

LaConya Cobb, graduate assistant of Campus Events, said that while her position in society as an African-American is far more secure today than it was in the time of MLK, she still feels more can be done.

Cobb recalled an incident she witnessed in her own neighborhood.

“I saw five police officers shove a black man to the ground, though he didn’t fight or resist the officer’s advance. He was cooperative. I found it disturbing,” she said.

Even though the man was suspected of firearm possession, Cobb believed he should have been treated better since he had surrendered himself to the authorities.

Despite the problems marginalized groups still face today, Cobb said that she is proud of the progress that has been made and is humbled by Dr. King’s legacy.

“[MLK] is a visionary. He embodied what it means to give back to your community and to serve others. Martin Luther King Day is a day to give back and reflect on where we are now and where we come from,” she said.