Princeton’s Central Presbyterian Church hosted its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Program on Monday, Jan. 16, complete with singing, essay reading and an address from keynote speaker Dr. Saundra Ardrey.
Rev. Steve Fortenberry, pastor of Central Presbyterian, provided a welcome, as did Princeton Mayor Brock Thomas, who said he was humbled to see the community gathered. JD Wilson offered the opening prayer, and Lisa Moore offered opening remarks. Special music was provided by Lynn Dixon.
Moore also introduced students who won an essay contest in which they shared how they were inspired by King to affect change. Each student read their essay, which focused on a problem they saw in society and how they would help fix it.
Evan Ramage read his essay that focused on the impact of social media and bullying. He said he planned to not only make sure to draw attention to the issue, but also start a club dedicated to helping stop cyber bullying. Caden Alfred focused on mental health awareness, noting how it was still an underserved and under-discussed issue that many people struggle with. He said he had already begun to help by ensuring he was a safe, judgment-free space for people to come to and feel supported. He also said he wants to volunteer at clinics and dedicate his life to people struggling with their mental health.
Isabella Burton read her essay about the fight for women’s medical rights. She said women having the right to their own autonomy was important, and she had educated herself on this issue because that was the best way to start affecting change. She also noted that change starts small, so she has made friends with members of local government so they can advise her on how to make change. Piper Norris was unable to make the event.
Ardrey, a professor at Western Kentucky University, was introduced by Caldwell County Judge-Executive Kota Young. Ardrey began her speech by saying she had been interested in the demographics of the crowd that would be gathered at the event and how her comments would be received. However, she knew her message was still relevant.
“Dr. King’s pearls of wisdom are as relevant today as they were 45 years ago,” Ardrey said.
An educator at heart, Ardrey began her speech by discussing what she sees as the current assault on liberal arts in education. She believes the lack of attention on language, culture and social justice is leaving students at a disadvantage.
“Liberal arts education provides a multifaceted view of the world,” Ardrey said. She noted many employers are looking for people who know how to communicate and jump into tasks that they may be unfamiliar with. Ardrey said students are no longer “learning for the sake of learning.”
To prove her point, she provided a list of Black visionaries who made scientific advances, but did not have a scientific background. First was Benjamin Banneker, who invented the clock, as well as having astronomical accomplishments. Madam C.J. Walker is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She made hair care products specifically for Black women. Kentuckian Garrett Morgan invented the three-position traffic signal and the gas mask model used in World War I. Joan Owens was a marine biologist who discovered new types of coral.
Ardrey said a liberal arts education allowed people to learn and understand cultures other than their own.
“We must learn to live together,” she emphasized, explaining that the idea of social justice is fair and just relations by equal opportunity. She then quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
According to Ardrey, there are four levels to becoming an ally. The first level is awareness. This means learning who you are and all that comes with it. It also includes recognition of your privilege. In a handout provided by Ardrey, privilege is defined as the following:
“Unearned advantages granted by society accorded to some people and not others; generally, refers to systemic or structural advantages that impact people based on identity factors such as race, gender, sex, religion, nationality, disability, sexuality and class.”
Ardrey said the privilege that tends to receive the most pushback is white privilege, because white people don’t like to identify as white. However, she said they should drop the shame they attach to it and use it to become better allies.
The second step is knowledge/education. This involves learning the history of your own and other cultures. Learn where you came from and where other people came from. Understand why people do things a certain way. This helps provide a foundation.
The third step is skills. This is where people often fall short because of a lack of support and fear of making a mistake. But this is where you learn how to communicate the knowledge you gained in step two.
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or be culturally insensitive,” Ardrey said. She also called on other Black people to be forgiving and patient with new allies and support them in their journey.
The fourth, and most important and frightening step, is action. In comparison to Rosa Parks, Ardrey asked, “What issues are you willing to stand up (for) by sitting down?”
She said action is the only way to affect change, and that activism is currently at an all-time high. Ardrey shared another quote from King.
“We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”
“We are the stone of hope,” said Ardrey, “and we shall overcome.”