This year’s annual MLK Unity Breakfast — which was held Jan. 21 in the University Y Student Center and focused on the theme “Reclaiming Purpose: We Write the Narrative” — recognized several members of the community and the work that they do in the greater Tacoma area with the Dream Awards. The breakfast honored the life, work and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. World-renowned economist and leader in finances and social commentary Dr. Boyce Watkins served as the keynote speaker for the event.
Black Student Union President Amari Hill, Vice President Malik Webster, Secretary LaKeisha Morris and Community Outreach Officer Jazmine Trevino served as the presenters for the breakfast. Performances during the event included a violin solo by Jaylan Fontanilla, a moving dance solo by local dancer DianaStarr Raynell and a step performance by Pacific Lutheran University’s step team Lute Nation. Guest speakers of the event leading up to the keynote address included Congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, as well as UW Tacoma alumni Omari Amili (class of 2016), Chana Lawson (class of 2007) and Jamie Victoria McGee (class of 2007).
During his keynote speech, Watkins discussed the importance of listening to arguments that you may not agree with and still being able to see the other person as a person.
“I want you to imagine this person having views that you don’t understand, and I want you to try your best to imagine that that person is a human being too,” Watkins said during his address. “Now, that sounds simple, and of course you know they’re human, right? They have a heart, lung and they can breathe and all of that stuff, right? But do you really see them as human beings? Do you see them as equal to yourself? Or do you see people who have views that you don’t understand as these ignorant, uninformed, terrible, destructive people that need to be wiped away from the face of the Earth?”
Morris, who helped to present the Dream Awards, spoke on what it meant to have the Unity Breakfast, as well as the importance of Watkins’ keynote address.
“I am glad that [Dr. Watkins] was able to speak to specific struggles that the black community has, is and will face due to institutionalized/structured racism while also relaying how it all connected to the bigger picture to a broad audience,” Morris said. “He covered a lot of things that unfortunately don’t get talked about frequently enough, such as how depending on who has the power epistemology can warp the legacy of historical figures… I can only hope that Dr. Watkins’ words reached the other attendees in the way that they reached me.”
Watkins also touched upon several important issues in the black community. He spoke on how the Civil Rights movement failed to address economic justice and how that 50 years later, this is still the problem black people face today. Another talking point was the need for support towards black institutional development, such as schools.
In addition to the keynote address, an annual goal of the Unity Breakfast is to highlight the people in and around UWT and the Tacoma area for their works in furthering and promoting social justice issues, diversity and civil rights. Since 2013, the Dream Awards have been presented to several members of the community. These awards are broken into three categories: the Student Awards, the Legacy Awards and the Organization Award.
Seniors Theo Calhoun and Sierra Jones received the Student Award. The Legacy Award was given to State Senator Rosa Franklin — the first black woman to be elected into the Washington State Senate where she served from 1993–2011. Finally, the UWT Pantry won the Organization Award, being recognized for its staff’s dedication in serving the student population.
Vice Chancellor of Student and Enrollment Services Mentha Hynes-Wilson reflected on the importance of the event. She also stated how proud she was for the students who organized the event.
“It was a really upbeat, uplifting and powerful observance of Dr. King and his legacy,” Hynes-Wilson said. “I applaud the students for all of their work. I am very thankful that the campus and our friends in the external community embraced the program and supported it.”