Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 13, 2022
To the Campus Community,
This Monday, January 17, the nation, the state of New York, and Stony Brook University will observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Classes will not be in session, and academic and administrative offices along with Stony Brook Child Care Services will be closed.
As I said this time last year, it is both inspiring and saddening that the words and message of Dr. King resonate as much today as they did in 1963. The last two years have laid bare the continued need for racial and economic justice in this country. They have heightened national awareness of the systemic and seismic changes that must be made if we are to answer Dr. King’s call for equality and respect.
And yet it was Dr. King’s power as a writer, an orator, and a rhetorician that ensured many of his words will always resonate—no matter the year, decade, or even century. His words live on both because they are true and because they are beautiful. They address profound truths about the human condition.
Dr. King was a brave leader and an incisive cultural critic. He was an unparalleled orator, a devoted minister, a transformative fighter for racial justice, and a brilliant storyteller. He was also a student of sociology and theology. At Stony Brook University, where we value and support a liberal education that trains our students across the breadth of disciplines, we are working to continue a legacy of scholars who use that perspective to advocate for change and communicate persuasively. Scholars who seek both truth and beauty in the world around them and who use their art to change the world.
This year, I have been returning to one of Dr. King’s quotations. It’s from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a text with which many of us might be familiar and which I encourage you to read or revisit. In reflecting on the complacency of his country and the Church in the face of virulent racism, he admits to experiencing a deep and abiding disappointment. Dr. King speaks honestly, understanding the despair that so many feel.
He looks closely at where that sense of loss and disappointment comes from. In the latter paragraphs of the text, he writes: “There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
While he was speaking quite specifically of the lack of support from the Church in the fight for racial justice, he was also speaking to the human truth that our feelings of disappointment are greatest about issues we care most deeply about. Over the past two years, we have had many moments of joy and hope, but we have also suffered many deep disappointments. We have lost innocent lives to racial violence. We have lost friends and family to COVID-19. But we have also experienced smaller losses. We have lost time. The regular patterns of our lives have been disrupted and we have lost time to be together, hug one another, learn from and laugh with and challenge one another.
I am grateful to begin this semester safely and in-person. But I also understand that a sense of loss may be lingering for many. And so this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I believe we can all honor him by reflecting on our own feelings of loss. By looking clearly at our disappointments and realizing that they come from a place of love and hope: our hope for a better and more connected world. That is something worth striving for.
And I am glad to be striving for it here, at Stony Brook University. Today, I’m wishing everyone the wisdom and courage that Dr. King has shown us.