In honor of Martin Luther King Week at Weber State University, the Office of Diversity hosted a virtual showing and panel discussion of the film “Beloved Community Project” on Jan. 19.
According to the Brolly Arts webpage, the film focuses on King’s idea that the beloved community can be obtained through non-violent social change. It showcases the stories of multiple Black people in Utah and the different experiences they’ve faced throughout their lives.
After the screening of the movie, Tashelle Wright, director of Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, introduced the audience to the panelists of the event, some of whom were even featured in the film. The panelists were also encouraged to give a call to action along with their introduction.
The panelists’ calls to action included creating platforms for people to share their stories, the health of Black and Afro-Latinx communities and encouraging individuals to not give up on their goals.
One, in particular, came from Adrienne Scott-Ellis, a retired educator from the Davis County School District. She recalled going into “mama bear” mode after witnessing the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and seeing the video of him calling out for his mother in his last moments.
“I wanted to protect my babies, and as an educator for 30 years, all my children are my babies,” Scott-Ellis said.
She continued by mentioning her call to action was the creation of Sowing Seeds of Change, a nonprofit aimed at giving students an opportunity to nurture their community by planting seeds and sharing produce with those in need.
“That is my mission — to plant the seeds, nourish those seeds, watch them grow into a loving community,” Scott-Ellis said.
Francis Davis, a pastor at the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, highlighted the denial of housing when he first moved to Utah in 1973 as his call to action, where he discovered there was no such thing as fair housing for everyone in the state.
He explained there would be no way people would be able to reach their full potential if everyone does not work together.
After introductions and calls to action, the audience was given the opportunity to ask the panelists further questions on their experiences and opinions on certain topics, beginning with their personal meaning of MLK Week.
Marian Dora Howe-Taylor, co-creator of Black Social Change Utah and the Beloved Community Project, mentioned her childhood lessons in church about loving your neighbors the way you love yourself. She believes the country is still in a stage where people should learn how to love one another.
“King’s life demonstrates love. He gave his life for love. He gave his life for civil rights and for the right to vote — all things we are still striving to gain,” Howe-Taylor said.
Clifton Sanders, provost of Academic Affairs at Salt Lake Community College, has a similar view on the celebratory week, adding the aspect of both truth and integrity. He also mentions how King’s legacy has been diminished to out-of-context lines from his “I Have a Dream” speech and how this week recovers who he is and the work he did in his lifetime.
As for different ways to relay King’s message throughout the entirety of the year rather than confining it to one week in January, Howe-Taylor encouraged community members and parents to contact their school districts to advocate for the teaching of civics and inclusive American history, as this been an issue in schools for years.
In fact, in February 2021, a public charter school in North Ogden, Maria Montessori Academy, briefly chose to make the curriculum on Black History Month optional, as reported by the Standard-Examiner.
“Once those two things happen, you begin to enlighten people with regards to the truth. The enormity of King’s message is not just for one day or for one month—it’s for every day. So many people don’t really understand how much African Americans have given to this country to the founding of this nation,” Howe-Taylor said.
The other panelists agreed, echoing the message that education on these topics is one of the most important aspects of having the ability to appreciate the differences of one another and having conversations about the country’s history.
Education does not have to start at a certain age, with the panelists suggesting education start as early as possible.
Davis suggested this can happen with simple things, such as changing the books around the house and pictures that reflect inclusion of different types of people.
Scott-Ellis brought up a story from her time in kindergarten where she was pushed to the ground, spit on and was called a racial slur. She believes that if children are learning that language at such a young age, then that is when education on the hardships of Black people in America should begin.
Wright chimed in with her own experience in the education system, never knowing about Black History Month and never having a Black teacher until she was in college.
“One approach at any age is, yes, to share what the reality, how hard and how painful it is, but also the triumph. Celebrate the diversity, celebrate the accomplishments of those who are different around you and how people have persevered. We are a community that persevered,” Wright said.
Another audience member asked about ways to build a community when people may not be interested in doing so, in which Davis called back to the discussion of education on the contributions African Americans have made in the building of the United States.
Scott-Ellis used gardening as a metaphor for community building, using communities as the garden and its diversity as the garden’s beauty.
“As a gardener, if you see there are plants that need more sunshine, you provide that. If they need more fertilizer, if they need support, you provide it as a gardener, and this is what we need to start doing as a society — realize we are a gardener, our garden, and it is our biodiversity, our diversity. That is our beauty,” Scott-Ellis said.
Individuals interested in watching the film may watch it for free on the Brolly Arts webpage.