Actress and activist Holly Robinson-Peete headlined the 28th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration as a keynote speaker on Monday, Jan. 19 at Lane Community College.
Lane students organized the community’s first celebration in 1987 and have co-sponsored the event ever since.
This year’s sponsors were Lane Community College, LCC Black Student Union, Associated Students of Lane Community College, LCC Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, LCC Asian Pacific Islander Student Union and LCC Gender and Sexuality Alliance.
In her speech titled Selma to Ferguson; The Dream Continues, Robinson-Peete emphasized that while great accomplishments have been built upon Dr. King’s legacy, America still shouldn’t be content with the progress that has been made toward racial equality and social justice.
“We as African-Americans — let me say all Americans— have become a little complacent on social justice,” Robinson-Peete said. “We may have been lulled into thinking the dream has been realized. It hasn’t.”
A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, Robinson-Peete is best known for her roles as Judy Hoff on the television series “21 Jump Street,” and Vanessa Russell on “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” In 2011, she was awarded the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work for her children’s book, “My Brother Charlie.”
“Speakers like (Robinson-Peete) inspire our students, but they also inspire all of us and remind us that there is work to be done,” Lane Community College president Mary Spilde said. “Every single day at LCC, we have the opportunity to do the work of equity and social justice if we just step up. Once in a while you need a little bit of inspiration and somebody to get you revved up to do it.”
Robinson-Peete’s speech was lighthearted and humorous, covering a range of topics, such as her brief role on the show “Sesame Street” as a child, visiting Oprah Winfrey’s home and even Eugene’s “Barmuda Triangle.”
“It’s hard to talk about MLK Day without talking about what’s going on today,” Robinson-Peete said. “I’ll watch CNN with my mom, and she tells me that it looks just like 1965.”
During the evening celebration members of the LCC Black Student Union received awards.
Shermel James, master of ceremonies, was awarded the BSU Scholarship by BSU Senior Co-Chairman Amiel Farfan. Shortly after, Farfan was awarded the Maddie Reynolds Award.
Greg Evans, African-American Student Program Coordinator, received the Social Justice Award.
For his efforts in helping create the LCC food pantry last year, former Associated Students of Lane Community College President Michael Weed received the ASLCC Community Leadership award, presented by President Malisa Ratthasing.
Weed followed with an emotional speech. “I actually wasn’t going to be part of student government,” Weed said. “I just wanted to make sure the food pantry was going. It was the students who pushed me.”
Cold Hard Truth, an alternative hip-hop quintet, provided the entertainment for the night, performing jazz-infused, socially conscious songs between speeches. After Robinson-Peete concluded her speech, the quintet continued playing while she spoke with audience members and signed autographs.
“It was an amazing experience; that’s the first festival-type thing that we have done,” Cold Hard Truth vocalist Frank “Ripples” Kersteins said. “We really appreciate the vibe and the peacefulness of all of it. That’s the whole point of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.”
Racism is more subtle and more insidious today than it ever has been before according to Evans. He said that in the past people knew where they stood. “Today, you’re not sure where you stand in a lot of instances. Is this a situation that is happening to me because of my race? My ethnicity? My gender affiliation?” he said.
He added that something might be totally innocent, or a simple misunderstanding. “People don’t know what those things are anymore, so the lines have been blurred,” Evans said.
Evans said that he was impressed with the way Robinson-Peete was able to connect her personal story with the recent racial conflicts that have been occurring across the country.
Evans commented that in the ’60s and ’70s people couldn’t go to certain parts of town because the police would be called because of the color of their skin. “There’s a lot of young people today who don’t know what it used to be like,” Evans said.