On Monday, January 20, the Academy observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a full day of programming to honor King’s legacy. A highlight of the day was the afternoon’s keynote address “Dreams Do Come True” by Reverend Sharon Risher, our 2020 Katherine Krall Guy Social Justice Speaker.
Risher is a reverend, author, and speaker. She was catapulted into the limelight after the Charleston, S.C. shooting at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. Her beloved mother, the church’s sexton, was killed along with eight others, including two cousins and a childhood friend. Since that horrific tragedy, Risher has been very outspoken about the nation’s gun laws and is one of the national spokespersons for the grassroots advocacy groups Everytown and Moms Demand Gun Sense. Her book, For Such a Time as This: Hope and Forgiveness after the Charleston Massacre was released in June 2019, coinciding with the four-year anniversary of the shooting.
Kathy Krall Guy retired from the Academy in 2017 as the longest serving female faculty member in the school’s history. Throughout her 40-year career at Governor's, she championed all issues pertaining to social justice, and, in her honor, the Academy is committed to bringing a nationally acclaimed social justice speaker to campus every year. Her husband Doug Guy attended Reverend Risher’s speech, and gave a brief introduction of Kathy Guy’s life and her contributions to the Academy before Reverend Risher spoke.
The day’s observations began with a viewing of the documentary King in the Wilderness in the Bergmann Theater, followed by breakout groups led by student leaders in the Academy’s Anti-Defamation League (ADL) chapter and student diversity committee. Student leaders led group discussions with their classmates and faculty members which focused on issues like racism, the notion of forgiveness, and reflecting on how Dr. King’s message relates to our work at Govs in making an inclusive community. Dean of Multicultural Education Edward Carson noted that a goal in showing the documentary was "to introduce students to a man who many students and people do not know. We felt it important to show King in the Wilderness so that this community might get a sense of (King's) complexity. Moreover, helping students make a connection between King’s radical message of love and activism, to the realities of twentieth century problems was our goal."
Reverend Risher’s speech focused on forgiveness, faith, and how she turned a horrific tragedy into advocacy work. She spoke about her dream as a little girl of being a politician, and how the tragedy of losing family members in a horrific way paved the way for her to be involved in politics now. She spoke of turning something bad into a positive, citing visiting the White House on several occasions during her advocacy work.
One student leader, Tianyu ‘20, talked about his experience leading his group’s discussion, “As a student facilitator, my goal was to bring difficult conversations to the group: Are we, in our actions, upholding the values of our community? It is always uneasy to start uncomfortable discussions, but I am very glad that we have dedicated a day to reflect upon our commitment to inclusion and justice while honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is imperative that during turbulent times as such that we look for lessons in history.”
Another student leader, Mary ‘20 reflected on the day, "I think Govs' Martin Luther King Jr. Day program is the perfect example of the day's values. Together as a community we honor Dr. King and the non-violent approach he had towards his work in social justice. We reflect on his work and ask ourselves how we can uphold his legacy and beliefs on campus. Our discussions make up our celebration of the day, and unite us with peers whom we maybe wouldn't normally talk to. It is an important day that has inspired me every year at Govs, and has helped me become a better leader here."
Risher has appeared on CNN on several occasions and has been interviewed by Time Magazine, Marie-Claire magazine, Guardian- BBC radio, among others. For more information, please visit her website.