MLK Symposium speakers urge people to confront injustice


Two award-winning journalists talked about their experiences with discrimination and encouraged people to confront injustice during the University of Michigan’s 2022 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

“Do your research. Understand your part of American history. Understand that we have a long history of struggle ahead of us,” said Maria Hinojosa, who, along with Rashad Richey, delivered the symposium’s keynote address Jan. 17.

For the second year in a row, the symposium’s opening event — which usually takes place in Hill Auditorium — was livestreamed due to concerns over COVID-19.

Now in its 36th year, the MLK Symposium is one of the largest of its kind in the country, said Janice Jones, a co-chair of the symposium committee and program director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. It runs through early February and includes more than 40 individual events.

Watch the full MLK Sympoium keynote event.

Jones said the symposium’s theme, “This is America,” explores two contrasting portraits of the United States. She said the first portrait centers around the country’s ideals, while the other focuses on the harsh realities that many people have experienced.

“Our hopes for a prosperous future lie in the reconciliation of these two truths: of what America is and has been,” Jones said. “We cannot become our best selves until we also deal with our worst selves.”

In recorded remarks, President Mary Sue Coleman said King’s powerful legacy continues to inspire work toward justice and equality.

“The academic excellence of our university is built on a foundation of diverse people and their experiences. It’s just that simple,” Coleman said. “The more committed we are to each other as a genuine community, one that celebrates all of its members and their different histories, the stronger we are as a university dedicated to improving society.”

President Mary Sue Coleman delivered remarks at the beginning of the event.

Hinojosa is a Mexican American journalist, anchor, author and executive producer of the Latino USA radio show on National Public Radio. She also is the founder, president and CEO of Futuro Media Group, which produces Latino USA, and has reported for PBS, CBS, WNBC and CNN.

Speaking from her home in the Dominican Republic, Hinojosa said she first heard King’s words as a young immigrant girl while growing up on Chicago’s South Side. She said she felt invisible at the time, and King’s message resonated with her.

“I just remember saying, ‘Well, I can be part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s America. He makes me feel like I can be part of this country, of his country,’” Hinojosa said. “And for a little kid, that changes everything. … It makes you visible. And when you feel visible, you feel empowered.”  

Hinojosa said in her work as a journalist, she continues to “fight for visibility.” She said one of the lessons she learned from King was to own the power of her own voice.

Clockwise from upper left, Rashad Richey, Maria Hinojosa and moderator Patricia Coleman-Burns conducted the 2022 MLK Symposium keynote discussion via livestream.

One day, Hinojosa’s mother called and was upset because she heard recordings of children crying after being separated from their parents and put in immigrant detention facilities during Donald Trump’s presidency. She then shared with Hinojosa an important part of her history.

Hinojosa was a baby when she, her mother and three siblings tried to move from Mexico to Chicago to join Hinojosa’s father, who had moved there six months earlier. They were detained by U.S. immigration officials at a Texas airport because Hinojosa had a rash on her skin. The officials said Hinojosa was sick and tried to persuade her mother to continue on to Chicago with her other children and leave Hinojosa behind.

“She said, ‘This almost happened to you. I was almost one of those mothers. You were almost one of those babies. They tried to take you from me,’” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said it’s important for people to learn their family history. She also said she and Richey hope to instill in people their own sense of power.

“This country’s democracy is resting on you,” she said.

Richey is a lecturer, university professor, broadcaster, writer, entrepreneur and frequent commentator on MSNBC, CNBC, BBC, The Young Turks Network and the Fox News Channel.

He said America is a “massive social experiment,” with everyone struggling to find themselves in the picture of the United States. He said when people feel disenfranchised, it is because they don’t see themselves in the American framework.

“If you take a picture with nine friends and you’re the 10th friend in the picture, and the picture looks great … but you don’t look your best in the picture, well that is a bad picture because you don’t like how you look in that picture, even if 90 percent of the people in the picture look great,” he said. “That is the struggle for equity in the United States of America.

“And we’re constantly saying, ‘No, the picture is just fine because everyone else looks good in the picture.’ But what about the minority who does not? And that is our great battle.”

Richey said King fought for genuine equality – meaning equity – and pushed for policy change. He said massive inequities continue to exist today and contribute to unequal outcomes in the United States.

Later, moderator Patricia Coleman-Burns, assistant professor emerita of nursing, referenced critical race theory in asking Hinojosa and Richey to respond to what she called an attack on diversity, equity and inclusion.

“There is a systemic approach to get this generation of K-12 students to not even acknowledge that the problem (of structural racism) exists,” Richey said.

“If they tell you and teach you and indoctrinate you to believe that no problem exists, that no structural racism is real, you will not fight it because you can’t acknowledge it. … It’s amazing how messaging has created a space where facts are very debatable.”


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