What Dr. Martin Luther Means to Me and Why

Overview of the Roundtable Discussion

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Photo by Sidney Beck

Speakers of the evening were (left to right) Keon Nesmith, Jen Babcock, and Danielle Simmons.

Sidney Beck and Jalissa White-Jones

Bridgewater Va.- Bridgewater College hosted “What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me and Why” in the Boinott Room, on Jan. 29 at 6 p.m. Jen Babcock, Danielle Simmons and Keon Nesmith were the selected speakers for the event. Around 20 people were in attendance.

“What Matters to Me and Why” is an event that is sponsored by Bridgewater College Chaplain Robbie Miller, and takes place once a month. Miller shared that  “What Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Means to Me and Why” is a great way to celebrate Dr. King and to welcome in Black History Month, which is in February. 

Babcock, an instructor in communication studies and theatre, was the first to speak about what Martin Luther King means to her. She started her discussion by talking about how she lived in Boston, Massachusetts, from the time she was born until the age of 11. The area of Massachusetts she grew up in was very diverse; she had integrated classes at school and peers of different races. 

Babcock then moved to an area of Maine that she described as “white-washed.” She said there was no diversity within the town, culturally or religiously. Babcock went on to spend the next seven years in a small town in Maine before attending the University of Maine. 

When Babcock went to the University of Maine, she said she specifically remembered walking down the sidewalk and seeing a person of color, and she said there was a “thunderstruck of realization” when she realized that moment was the first time in a very long time she had seen a person of color. “I felt so dumb that I hadn’t noticed the diversity that had been missing,” said Babcock. 

When Babcock went on to explain about what Martin Luther King Jr. means to her, she talked about how when white people read his “I Have a Dream” speech, they tend to focus on the poetic language of his writing, rather than the deeper meaning.  She talked about how white people may not see that Dr. King was really focusing on his disappointment in white people. She mentioned how she thinks the reasoning for white people focusing on the poetic language and not Dr. King’s message is because, “White people don’t see white.” 

“The holiday for me is about where my responsibility lies within my teachings and my classes. Dr. King is my reminder to try and keep myself accountable and my reminder that I can always do better,” said Babcock. 

Simmons, who works in Human Resources, shared a time when she experienced racism in her community, and what Dr.King means to her. She spoke the longest out of the group, but many attendees commented that they thought her speech was extremely whole-hearted and passionate.

Simmons begins her story with a racist encounter she and her children experienced  in their neighborhood. This encounter left Simmons in a state of shock and confusion. Simmons said, “If you ever experience racism, it’s a look…It’s an evil look in someone’s eyes.”

Simmons took a very spiritual take on what Dr. King meant to her. She had a list written down of different qualities that Dr. King possessed as both a civil rights leader, father, husband and pastor. Some of the qualities she named were empathy, poise, courage, strength, acceptance and leadership. 

Simmons read several of Dr. King’s quotes. Two of these quotes were, “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter” and “only in the darkness can you see all of the stars.” 

Simmons spoke on Dr. King’s preachings and spirituality during his movement. She focused on how he used the power of religion and teachings about peace to bring people of different ethical and racial backgrounds together. “He was a non-violent role model during an extremely violent time,” said Simmons. 

Simmons ended her discussion by talking about the achievements of Dr. King and what he means to her and her family. She talked about how amazing it was that he was able to bring all of these different people together during a time when it seemed impossible for people of different races to get along. 

“He truly did not see color in his journey to equality,” said Simmons. 

The last key speaker of the evening was  senior Keon Nesmith. He talked about a time when he first experienced racism at the young age of six. Nesmith expressed that his first grade teacher at the time stated, “We are going to complete this assignment in a minute, but we might need to take longer because of Keon.”

 Instead of saying a rude comment back to the teacher Nesmith instead thought, “What would Dr.King do?” As a young kid growing up, “I looked to Dr. King as my role model, ” said Nesmith. 

Nesmith also touched on how his family had a large influence on Dr. King’s teachings being embedded into his life. Nesmith said by the age of six, he had both the “I Have a Dream” speech and the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech memorized. 

The night ended with other participants of the table talk sharing stories, and their views on who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was to them. Some attendees, including Miller, recalled how when they were young they remembered Martine Luther King Jr.’s assassination in the media. Someone else shared how they remembered a high school in Winchester, Virginia, being desegregated as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Miller commented on the variety of perspectives there were around the table and how it was great everyone was sharing.