Office of Diversity and Inclusion holds 14th annual MLK commemoration, focused on building bridges


Screenshot from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Facebook livestream of the 14th annual MLK commemoration.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion held their 14th annual MLK commemoration, with the focus being centered on building bridges.  They recognized Gabriel Fonseca, director of SEAL, as the 2022 Drum Major Award recipient and included other guest speakers.

Courtney Lockhart, president of the African American Faculty Staff Association was introduced first and said that he has served in many different roles at the university, from undergraduate student to a full-time staff employee.

“Over the years, I’ve had great pleasure of witnessing growth in the university,” Lockhart said.  “As with any edifice of higher education, we have work to do as an institution.  But I believe we’ve come a ways.”

He said that he often listens to King’s speeches and reflects on the wisdom that he shared during his time.  

“Now I, as a black man, and we, as a people, we still stand in faith believing, and standing on our hope that there will be better days to come,” Lockhart said.

Lockhart said that he believes that the stars are becoming clear, although darkness lingers in the nation.  

“Just as the stars are present in the sky, amidst surrounding darkness, so too we will shine in the midst of opposition.

“It’s not only about skin color, which some would limit our celebrations to,” Lockhart said.  “It’s about the right to be proudly different, intelligent without apology, and strategic in building something that will stand tomorrow.”

Pre-recorded videos from students were also included in the celebration.  Omarian Brantley, president of BSU, read “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou.  Zachary James, president of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, read an excerpt from one of Dr. King’s speeches.  Kennedy Moore, fundraising coordinator for BSU, sang “Raise Up” by Andra Day. 

The annual Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. drum major award honoree was also announced.  The award is presented to a Wichita State university administrator, faculty, staff or student who seeks greatness but does so through service and love.  

Gabriel Fonseca, who started on campus in 2018 and has served in multiple roles on campus including director of SEAL and advisor to SGA, accepted the award during the Facebook livestream.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this award, to be recognized by ODI means a lot,” Fonseca said.  “I think definitely in a time like this and where we are in the world and as a society, we definitely need to lean on each other and support those around us.”

Reverend Ralen Robinson, pastor at Reformation Lutheran church, was the keynote speaker for the event, who spoke on the meaning of building bridges.

“Building the bridge, it’s about our upbringing, and seeing yourself within the world, looking at the beautiful kaleidoscope of people, and just the first time you experience something other than yourself,” Robinson said.  “That’s when you see someone who is a different color than you, a different culture … That’s when you start building the bridge, when you see the difference and you see the complexities of the community.”

Robinson said that she stuck on the bridge that she had already formed when she went to a college in a different state, and saw pockets of diversity everywhere which allowed her bridge to be built.  After college, she went to Jerusalem in 2015 for a year of service and thought that people would be able to see themselves in her.

“Stepping off of that plane, I saw something vastly different than going a few blocks out of my neighborhood,” Robinson said.  “It was a culture shock … While we were both brown and had similarities, we were vastly different from one another.”

Robinson saw civil unrest happening both back in America on the news and in Jerusalem, and knew what she needed to do was listen, hold their stories and form relationships built on trust and transparency.  

“While we don’t share that cultural experience, we share that human experience,” Robinson said.  “How can I meet you, how can I meet my sibling in Christ.”

Robinson said that it is important to believe that you too can do great things, push yourself as well as be pushed, change your outlook, and create friendships.  She said as we build bridges, we see a world bigger than ourselves.

“We see ourselves as a small part in this beautiful tapestry that is made up of different hues and colors and shapes and sizes, and you really do the hard work, you continue the petition that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid down, and that is to create avenues and spaces for all people,” Robinson said.