Giancarlo Esposito delivered the keynote address at Lane’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event Jan. 20, 50 years after Congress enacted the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
The night featured music and dancing, as well as the presentation of several different advocacy awards. Tickets were sold out for the event, which was held in the Ragozzino Performance Hall in Building 6.
The ceremony was emceed by the president of Lane’s Black Student Union, Jesse Ellison.
“It means a lot. It’s something we do annually,” Ellison said. “I think the philosophy of Dr. King really means a lot to the student groups here on campus.”
Attendees included Lane students and staff, members of the community.
Bridgett Levert said what made the evening especially meaningful for her was being able to attend with her 87-year old mother, who marched for the desegregation of schools during the Civil Rights era.
“It’s just a blessing,” Levert said. “It’s great to see the fruits of so many people’s hard work over the years.”
Several awards were presented during the celebration.
Philip Carrasco, a human rights commissioner for the city of Eugene, presented the Human Rights Commission Latina Leaders Award to Lane employees Carmen Urbina, Francisca Eva Johnson and Elizabeth Andrade.
Carrasco said the Latinas being honored are dynamic leaders in the community that young Latinas can look up to.
“We all know communities of color are underrepresented,” Carrasco said. “Although I’m a Latino who is underrepresented myself, I’m a male who recognizes my male privilege.”
In addition to her award from the city’s civil rights commission, Andrade also received the ASLCC Social Justice Award.
ASLCC Vice President Anayeli Jiminez presented the award and commended Andrade for her efforts to establish cultural competency at Lane.
“We couldn’t have gotten this far without her,” Jimenez said. “Despite the many challenges we face in our community, Elizabeth has always been strong and brave in this fight.”
The theme of cultural competency continued as student government president Paul Zito presented the ASLCC Community Leadership Award to Lane President Mary Spilde.
Spilde was also presented with the City of Eugene Human Rights Commission Award and the Black Student Union’s Maddie Reynolds Award.
Maddie Reynold’s was one of Eugene’s civil rights crusaders.
Greg Evans, a Lane employee and Eugene city councilor, said Spilde deserved to be honored for the work she had done over the past year — especially her work in diversity.
“She’s a woman who walks her talk — and I can’t say that about a lot of people that have those kind of CEO/leadership roles,” Evans said. “She doesn’t equivocate, doesn’t make excuses. She backs her employees and she backs her students.”
“This year alone we’ve seen her act as a hero around controversial issues — specifically related to cultural competency,” Zito said. “She demanded a safe space for students to speak their minds and be heard.”
In honor of the award, Zito said ASLCC will dedicate a small garden plot outside of Spilde’s office to be filled with flowers and a monument from the school’s art program.
“I can’t tell you what it means to me, what a privilege it is to be recognized by students,” Spilde said.
Spilde said she was inspired by the many student activists attending Lane, and added she had nothing but admiration for them.
“There are so many students at Lane who are working for social justice,” Spilde said. “Whether it’s registering voters, making a food pantry for hungry students — as they’ve just done — or their efforts to require professional development in cultural competence for everyone at Lane so we can create a respectful, inclusive and safe environment for everyone.”
Later, Esposito delivered his keynote address.
Esposito currently portrays Tom Neville on NBC’s Revolution. Previously, he portrayed Gus Fring on AMC’s Breaking Bad — a role that garnered an NAACP Image Award nomination.
While he’s best-known for his acting work, Esposito is also a director and producer.
Esposito said he was grateful to be visiting Lane, “especially and specifically” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Through his dream, we were born free. His dream became our dream,” Esposito said. “My mother would always say, ‘no one can take away what is between your ears.’ I used to giggle and say, ‘what do you mean by that?’ She would just say, ‘keep reading that book, and you’ll find out.’”
Esposito encouraged the audience to consider the intentions of their actions.
“Intention is the driving force behind those who are not lost — so what is your intention?” Esposito said.
“All of you students out there and teachers who need to be revived and rejuvenated, and need to be present in the now — you might want to look at your intentions for your actions, your intentions for your life,” Esposito said. “I ask you to be courageous in this moment. In this, your time. You determine your future by choice, and that choice is made each and every moment that you live and breathe.”
Esposito said the the thing that makes thinkers like Martin Luther King Jr. so insightful was their ability to question and be aware, ultimately allowing them to be their fullest selves.
“Because if I expand, I’m going to be bursting at the seams. I’m going to have no choice but to talk to you about your expansion. I will have no choice but to share the joy of my gratitude with you — and in that joy, glistening, that sparkle, in that energy will come a fellowship like no other.”