SMCM Virtually Hosts 17th Annual Southern Maryland MLK Prayer Celebration

ST. MARY’S CITY, Md. — For the past 17 years, St. Mary’s College of Maryland(SMCM) has held the Southern Maryland Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, and this year was no different-- despite the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s event was held virtually via ZOOM, with this year's theme being “What Matters To You.”

The celebration kicked off with a gospel duet performed by choir members from St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in St. Inigoes, Md. This was followed by the President of SMCM Tuajuanda Jordan's opening remarks, which touched on the theme and circumstances of this year’s celebration.

“The prayer celebration marks an MLK Day tradition here in St. Mary’s County," Jordan said. "The day is a day of service and importantly of reflection…Our time together this year is different, as we find new ways to celebrate in a global pandemic.”

This was followed by an opening invocation given by Rev. Dante Eubanks of the New Covenant Christian Center. President Jordan then introduced U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer[MD-05], who gave some remarks on the holiday and the current political climate.

“I am so pleased to join you once again on this celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, but as I have said so often we all know it is much more than that," Hoyer said. "It’s a re-dedication of ourselves.”

Hoyer spoke about the importance and legacy of Dr. King and how his message still holds significant resonance in U.S. politics to this day, citing the Trump administration and the recent social unrest that occurred on Jan. 6 in Washington DC.

“We still face difficult moments and difficult hours watching truth succumb to lies," Hoyer said. "We still long to see the full measure of justice, that still alludes so many of us. All of us saw the extent of that challenge both in November’s election when President Trump and many of his allies tried to make it harder for many Americans to access the ballot box. and this month’s seditious act of insurrection on the capital.”

The weight of our current political climate was ever-present during this year’s event. The COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the recent "Capitol Insurrection" were regularly mentioned by the speakers. All were noted as playing a major role in influencing the tone and message of this year’s event.

This feeling was extended by the keynote speaker of the event, Dr. Crystal Fleming, a professor of Sociology at Stony Brook University and author of the book “How to be Less Stupid About Race.”

Fleming was introduced by the president of the SMCM Black Student Union, Ruby Turner. Fleming's address reflected on the legacy of Dr. King, remembering his values and teachings while pointing out how MLK’s values and stances have changed since his death.

“For too long, Dr. King's radical critique of white supremacy has been silenced and replaced with a watered-down almost ‘Disney’ version of his of his legacy,” Fleming said.

When later speaking of current political unrest, she mentioned that we should take note from Dr. King in recognizing race issues in our country.

“If there is anything that we can learn from all this it is certain that we must squarely acknowledge in the tradition and legacy of Dr. King [and] the ongoing realities of white supremacy in the United States,” she said.

Fleming's speech focused on the more radical and less talked about aspects of MLK's stances, such as his opposition to the Vietnam War, class politics, and clashes with both status quo of the ’60s. Following her address, a Q&A was held where people could write in questions to Dr. Fleming, this was moderated by St. Mary’s College’s Chief Diversity Officer Kelsey Bush.

Other speakers at the event included: Lex Birney who is the CEO of St. Mary’s College’s Board of Trustees, BJ Hall who is President of the St. Mary’s County Chapter of the NAACP and Denise Barnes who is President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Nu Zeta Omega Chapter.

All participants invited people to participate in the day of service by bringing donations of clothes and non-perishables.

Musical and dance performances were also present at the event. First, there was a performance by the Spring Ridge Middle School Rhythm Club, and then dance students from St. Mary’s Ryken High School performed a dance routine set to John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Naomie Fuller, a student at St. Mary’s Ryken, closed the event with a stellar performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

In her closing statement, President Jordan remained optimistic for the future of the celebration.

“It is our hope that you leave today's program inspired you to continue your work in creating a more just society for the present and the future.”

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