Florida State University concluded its 28th Annual MLK Week with a commemorative celebration featuring a keynote speech by noted writer and historian Jelani Cobb Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Ruby Diamond Concert Hall.
Cobb focused on how racial politics have been intertwined with America’s history since its founding.
Cobb, an associate professor of history and director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut, is also a staff writer at the New Yorker, where he has penned a series of articles about race, the police and injustice.
He noted how throughout history, when progress has been made toward racial equality, the nation has also regressed in certain ways.
“This is the last year of the first black presidency,” Cobb said. “It’s easy to think that the (racial) problems that you see is a contradiction to that. There’s so much progress on the one hand, and there’s so much difficulty on the other.”
Cobb spoke about the recent shootings in places like Ferguson, Charleston and Chicago, but pointed out these types of incidents are not new when there are advances in civil rights.
“In American history, progress and regression are intimately tied together,” Cobb said. “There is this cycle of progress and backlash.”
Cobb ended his talk on an uplifting note and why he finds inspiration in King’s life and teachings.
“What gives me strength and inspiration is when King says, ‘I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we as a people will get to the promised land,’” Cobb said.
“This won’t happen automatically. There will be struggles and things we find difficult, and there will be points when the present seems bleak … but we also have the committed will of people who say this is not the world we will bequeath to people who come in it.”
Before Cobb’s talk, the FSU Gospel Choir performed, and Student Government Association President Jean Tabares and FSU President John Thrasher welcomed and thanked the participants.
Highlighting the event was the presentation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award to Bruce Lamont, the Thomas L. Williams Eminent Scholar of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Jim Moran Institute Director of Research. Lamont was recognized for his efforts in increasing the racial diversity of doctoral students and mentoring young black men at Florida State.
The award was established in 1986 to honor a faculty member, administrator or staff member for his or her outstanding service in keeping with King’s principles and ideals and carries a $1,000 stipend for the recipient.
One of Lamont’s former students wrote, “He is a fine scholar and educator … and he stands as an excellent representative of Florida State University and of the commitment this university has made to the principles and ideals of diversity and inclusion.”
The MLK Book Stipend Awards, scholarships to assist Florida State University students in completing their education, also were announced. The awards, given by Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and the FSU National Black Alumni, are available on a competitive basis to both undergraduate and graduate students.
The scholarship recipients were Tiffany Farr, an English and sociology major; Gabriel Gomes, an international graduate student studying chemistry; Aliza Denobrega, graduate student studying neuroscience; Sophia Rahming, an educator both nationally and globally for 24 years; Rikisha Collins, a first-year political science student; and MarCherie Thompkin, a senior majoring in editing, writing and media.