Melissa Harris-Perry gives MLK Day speech at Jorgensen Center

Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC's "Melissa Harris-Perry," delivers her speech titled “Challenges Facing Underrepresented Communities in America: Issues of Equity, Justice, Civility or Respect" on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Monday, Jan. 18, 2016. (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

The host of a popular current affairs and political commentary show on MSNBC told audience members Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used violence as a strategy to advance the Civil Rights Movement at an event commemorating him at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts Monday night.

Melissa Harris-Perry’s speech, which was titled “Challenges Facing Underrepresented Communities in America: Issues of Equity, Justice, Civility or Respect,” focused on just that.

Harris-Perry, who is also a Presidential Endowed Chair in Politics and International Affairs at Wake Forest University, executive director of The Pro Humanitate Institute, and author of “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, ” said, “Never tweet if you want those things [equity, justice, civility, or respect].”

“I’m not kidding,” she said as the audience erupted in laughter.

In today’s society, Harris-Perry believes that King would have been brilliant on Twitter and use Instagram to draw attention to injustice.

“What was the outcome of the movement in Albany,” Harris-Perry asked. The crowded remained silent.

“Exactly,” she said.

According to Harris-Perry, although King was not a violent person, he recognized how it moved people to change, which is why the events in Selma and Birmingham were successful in creating change.

Harris-Perry shifted the talk about King to discuss the virtue of courage.

“Courage allows us to consistently be equitable, just, civil and respectful,” she said.

With Barack Obama winning the 2008 presidential election, it gave hope that the way African Americans were viewed in society was going to change, according to Harris-Perry. But she realized that was not going to be the case starting with the arrest of Skip Gates in 2009.

She then proceeded with the deaths of African Americans since then: Trayvon Martin, Haidya Pendleton, Miriam Carey, Renisha McBride, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, Quintonio Legrier and Bettie Jones.

“We need courage. [It’s the] most important of all virtues,” said Harris-Perry.

Harris-Perry recalls what her dad used to sign his cards to her with, “the struggle continues.”

“The struggle continues,” she told the audience,  “the gift is to be part of it.”

According to Harris-Perry, in college students should encounter things that are hard for them, that go against what students believe in and support.

“It’s good for you,” she said.

But she acknowledges that it should be “safe from assaults of bodies, minds, souls, etc.” She also argued that while recognition matters, so do resources. Authority figures on college campuses should welcome protest of authority, she added.

“Talk to them. Listen to them. They’re your students after all,” Harris-Perry said.

She emphasized that it’s important to get creative and failure will be certain, but “don’t be afraid. Courage is the most important virtue.”

Afterwards, there was a question and answer segment moderated by Dr. Joseph Cooper, assistant professor in the department of education leadership and sport management.

One student, who was a resident assistant, asked Harris-Perry what kind of talking points of oppression he could bring up with his residents.

She used an example she learned from the book “The Little Prince.” When you want to build a ship, rather than gathering and assigning people to the task, teach people how to long for the sea and they’ll figure out themselves how to build it, Harris-Perry said.

“There are no talking points, we have to yearn for it ourselves,” she said.

Eighth-semester sociology major Kenyi Silva said he’s seen Harris-Perry on her television show and read parts of her books in class.

“She does amazing work. It’s brilliant, insightful and the realest she could be. She talked about real issues and her real thoughts about them,” he said, “she didn’t tell the crowd what she thought they wanted to hear, but what she honestly thought about the issues.”

Among the other various speakers at the event, Maman Cooper, a sixth-semester communication major and president for the NAACP UConn chapter called to action for everyone to register and or vote in the upcoming presidential election.

“Voting makes dreams come true, it’s a right and a privilege,” she said. “Vote because you matter if not for yourself for others who don’t have that privilege or for the lives of others.”

Students are encouraged to use #IWillNotOppress to pledge to be an ally and spread knowledge.


Angie DeRosa is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at angelina.derosa@uconn.edu. She tweets @theangiederosa.