By Savannah Lewis
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This quote is the theme for the 29th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Breakfast. The breakfast, held on Jan. 2, is an annual collaboration between Cleveland State University and Cuyahoga Community College to highlight students at both universities and showcase the progression of change that King helped to establish.
Ronnie Dunn, chief diversity officer at Cleveland State, explained that the event is in place to “commemorate the legacy, work and vision of Dr. King and to make sure it is not just seen as a celebratory day, but that we embody the work that he stood for and move that work and vision forward”.
In an effort to showcase King’s message on their campuses, Cleveland state and Tri-C held contests asking students to write a personal essay based off of the quote seen above. Two students were chosen from each school to share what this quote meant to them in their day to day lives.
“We want to celebrate and acknowledge the next generation of leaders,” Dunn explained. “So the students and their essays are the focal point of the event.”
Kayla Barillas, one of the contest winners from Cleveland State, focused on her experiences that related to the meaning of the quote.
“My parents are both from El Salvador, and I am also a first-generation college student.” Barillas said. “So I wrote about discrimination and inequality that I have faced in my community and that my community is currently facing.”
Barillas decided to write this essay to share who she is as well as shed light on the issues that her community faces.
“I wanted to write this essay so at least someone could hear my own story and my community’s story,” Barillas stated. “People are going to hear my family’s story — my story. I feel that it is my responsibility as a first-generation El Salvadoran and American student to be somewhat of a voice.”
Kevin Ballou is the other Cleveland State student chosen to deliver his message to the over 240 people attending the breakfast. Ballou is an activist at Cleveland State and focused his essay on his experience as a formerly incarcerated individual. Ballou explained how he interpreted the quote and applied it to his daily life.
“It’s not being silent,” Ballou said. “It’s taking action, communicating with people. Communication builds empathy, so you can understand what someone else is going through, understand someone else’s experience and then work together to create a better world for all. It is my backbone.”
To this day, King’s messages are lessons that people still feel the need to evaluate and be guided by.
“Dr. King has had a huge impact, not only in our community but in the nation and the world, particularly at a time where our nation is divided among so many lines.” Dunn explained why King’s message still holds relevance in today’s climate. “We have a critical need in a time like this where xenophobia is being spread rampant within our country and around the globe.”
Dunn, as well all who are hosting the event, believe that the audience will be able to take away important lessons from the program and expect that they will be able to use them to make a change in the community around them.
“I hope the audience will receive the inspiration to push forward and build on the legacy and lessons Dr. King left us and advance our society in some way,” Dunn said. “To work for the benefit of the community and the greater good.Not only themselves and members of their own particular social group or background but others as well.”