Alumni Explore Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy at MLK Day Symposium

Five Black and African American alumni spanning 20 years of EHS graduates joined the School’s fifth annual MLK Day Symposium to lead a discussion with students and other alumni about the legacy and influence of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Jonathan Lee ’01, EHS associate director of admissions, organized the virtual event, which was an outgrowth of #BlackSuccessFromEHS, his social media campaign to highlight and celebrate the work and achievements of Black and African American alumni of Episcopal, including CEOs, doctors, lawyers, politicians, experts, and other leaders in their fields. 

Each of the five panelists drew from Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. Sundi Lofty ’94, a television writer and producer, spoke of how she has been inspired by Dr. King’s work “to give voice to the voiceless.” She talked to students about how Dr. King and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement used media images — beginning with a photo of the murdered Emmett Till and including images of marchers being fire-hosed in Birmingham, Ala. — to illustrate the ugliness of racism in America and galvanize support. 

“People were seeing these images, and they were being affected by these images,” she said. “Martin Luther King and others in the movement were like: ‘Here it is in your face.’”

Tamela Blalock ’98, a top executive with the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, spoke of how the 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech” was part of the March for Jobs and Freedom, during which Dr. King first made economic justice a centerpiece of his work. She discussed the 10 demands of the march, including an end to discrimination in housing and the workplace. Most of those demands remain unmet, Blalock said. “If all of that had been realized in 1963, we wouldn’t see the big wealth disparity that we have [today].”

Mike Otoo ’15, a second-year student at Rutgers University’s medical school, explained how Dr. King saw racial injustice in healthcare as particularly damaging to people of color. Otoo traced a history of racism in medicine that included the eugenics movement and the mid-20th century Tuskegee syphilis experiments with Black male sharecroppers. 

Racial disparities in healthcare today mean many people of color suffer higher rates of disease and lack access to quality treatments, he noted. “It’s been a struggle to achieve Martin Luther King’s dream,” he said. “There’s a long way to go, and a lot of work we need to put in.”

The panelists also talked about their experiences at Episcopal, and how the culture of the school was at times hurtful and could make them feel like outsiders. Maya Glenn ’16, who is working toward a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Michigan, said she felt the School didn’t recognize or promote Black academic excellence, which led her to work hard toward earning membership in the Cum Laude Society. She gained membership, she said, in part to show that Black students deserved to be honored for such excellence.

Similarly, she wants her Ph.D. work to serve a broader cause, with her research focusing on the advancement of Black women. “On the days when I feel discouraged or just tired, I remember that what I am trying to do isn’t just about me. And that’s what’s motivated me to work smarter and ultimately hit my goals.”

Alix Dejean ’00 — a veteran strategic communications executive who’s now helping lead Noodle Partners, a growing network of online and hybrid programs in higher education — said Episcopal gave him “a platform to grow and learn in a safe space and to try things out.” But he urged students not to stand by when they perceive an injustice, whether on campus or in America. “I refuse to believe that my country won’t lean in to being a more perfect union,” he said. 
“Episcopal’s not perfect,” he added. “But it can be.”

After the event, Lee said it was an important opportunity for these Black professionals to share stories about "their excellence, success, and existence." He added: "This group spoke to and on the behalf of  the next generation of students of color and the community of Episcopal collectively.  This conversation was the first of many opportunities to improve upon our joint legacy built on the work and ideologies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on The Holy Hill."


Thank you to the alumni who gave of their time to talk with our students. Click here to watch a video of their discussion.