Dr. Yohuru Williams Helps RL Honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Each January, Roxbury Latin celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a Hall in his honor. On January 17, Headmaster Brennan reminded the boys and faculty why we “pause to recognize the contributions of this remarkable man and to consider anew the principles of justice, equality, and brotherhood—principles he pursued ardently and about which he spoke eloquently. Even as laws and social policy have been advanced that protect and affirm the rights of all Americans, the prejudices and hatred that Dr. King worked so hard to eradicate remain in too many heads and hearts.”

The morning’s program included a reading from the Book of Micah, by Sebastian Borgard of Class I. Following that, faculty member Matthew Dinger read an excerpt from Barack Obama’s “A More Perfect Union” speech delivered in Philadelphia in 2008. The collective singing of the songs “America,” “Wake Now My Senses,” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” added musically to the theme of the day.

The Hall’s keynote address was delivered by Dr. Yohuru Williams—the McQuinn Distinguished Chair and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. To begin, Dr. Williams insisted that the students ask themselves three critical questions: Who am I? Whose am I? Who am I called to become? “Every great figure in history has had to answer those three questions,” he explained. “The way you answer those questions is a powerful testament to who you are as a person and what you consider to be valuable—what you esteem and hold dear. In those moments that you think you’ve failed and that you can’t go on, you need to go back and to ask yourself ‘What’s driving my commitment here?’”

Dr. Williams read passages from Dr. King’s book Strength to Love and reminded students that “it takes strength to address inequality and recognize our shared humanity, and not come to vilify or hate those with whom we disagree. It takes strength to appreciate that in loving the other, and celebrating our shared humanity… we become fully human.”

He turned an age-old adage on its head and told students that they don’t stand on the shoulders of giants, but that they, today—at the ages of 14, 15, 16—can be giants themselves. He recalled the examples of celebrated civil rights activists throughout history who began their important work as adolescents. And he reminded students that Dr. King wasn’t a superhuman individual, but that he was fallible; he had just chosen—simply and bravely—to commit himself to the cause of equality because of what he valued, and how he answered those three important questions. You can watch the entirety of Dr. Williams’s talk below.

Prior to his current role, Dr. Williams served at Fairfield University as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and as Vice President for Public Education and Research—as well as Chief Historian—at the Jackie Robinson Foundation in New York City. Dr. Williams’s teachings and writings on the topics of African-American history; the Civil Rights and Black Power movements; urban history; constitutional history; and the African Diaspora are prolific. He has authored and edited more than a dozen books on these subjects, and has published numerous scholarly articles in prominent national history and law journals. He has appeared on a variety of local and national radio and television programs, most notably Aljazeera America, BET, C-SPAN and NPR. He was featured in the PBS documentaries Jackie Robinson and The Black Panthers. Dr. Williams earned his B.A. and M.A. in history at the University of Scranton where he was classmate to RL history faculty members Christopher Heaton and Tim Kelly. Dr. Williams earned his Ph.D. from Howard University.