Defying the distance

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At one o’clock on Monday afternoon, dancers clad in black and vibrant reds and golds made their way through the crowd gathered at Swasey Chapel. Once on stage, they launched into a joyous dance, rollicking and moving to the celebratory sounds of hand drums played by fellow students. It was the start of the college’s annual convocation to celebrate the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Another 2012 MLK commemoration highlight included a weekend service challenge that had Denison students and employees participate in local projects such as visiting areas of nearby Newark to educate and register voters. In addition, thematic dialogue luncheons were held in campus dining halls during the noon hour on Monday.

In keeping with this year’s theme, “Defying the Distance: Toward Solidarity with the Disinherited,” convocation speaker Donald Whitehead shared his story of addiction and homelessness. Whitehead, former board president and executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, pleaded with the Denison community to become educated and involved in fighting America’s homelessness epidemic.

The talk was what Associate Provost Toni King later called the first “teach-in” of the day. What followed was an afternoon of 20 teach-ins held across campus and presented by students, faculty, and staff. Stephanie Agosta, wellness coordinator, guided her group in making shoes from straps and rubber, a practice popular among the Tarahumara people in northern Mexico, as part of a presentation discussing the history of shoes and the role they play in socio-economic status around the world. Tony Lisska, professor of philosophy, Alexandra Bradner, assistant professor of philosophy, and Josh Finnell, librarian for the humanities, engaged in a philosophical deconstruction of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and the role natural law played in that letter written in King’s cell on the margins of newspaper and on toilet paper. In another teach-in, University President Dale Knobel discussed inclusiveness in higher education. And Whitehead himself shared more statistics related to homelessness in the United States in his talk, “How Far Have We Ventured from Beloved Community?”

It was a day filled with service and learning. And what was the most important lesson learned? That we still have plenty of work to do.

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