In honor of Black History month, Elmhurst College hosted speaker David Stovall for a lecture on the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. on Feb. 10th.
Stovall, who is a professor of Educational Policy Studies and African-American Studies at UIC, discussed current issues of racial tension, systemic oppression, and the power of social justice in today’s society, while relating them to the teachings of Dr. King. Russell Ford, Associate Professor of Philosophy at EC, was in charge of organizing the event. When searching for a speaker, Ford said he wanted someone who shared unconventional ideas.
“My aim is to bring new and different voices into our campus dialogues," he said. "With Professor Stovall, I wanted to give the campus the opportunity to hear a different and powerful marshaling of the work of Dr. King that might trouble some preconceptions but also reinvigorate the texts and words of a thinker and fighter for justice whose voice may have become too familiar."
In his lecture, Stovall touched on infamous events like the deaths of Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, and Trayvon Martin, citing them as specific instances of a larger system of racial oppression and perpetual disregard for the humanity of black people.
“The destruction of black bodies in the U.S. is understood as normal, right, and good," said Stovall. "We live in a place where a black body is killed every 28 hours by law enforcement."
Stovall said black people in America are “not only killable, but irrelevant” and claimed that society views them as useless, and “will create instances to remind [them] of [their] uselessness."
He called for a reform in this treatment of black people, but claimed the change must first come from within the black community.
“We need to fight the perpetual marginalization, isolation, and the making of black bodies disposable," he said. "We need to start demanding our humanity not so much from the powers that be, but from ourselves first."
Stovall stressed that women and youth are the catalysts for reform, because they have been consistently progressive in terms of social justice movements.
“The contributions of women and the contributions of young people, until now, have been very rarely foregrounded," he said. "I think young people and women historically have said these [unjust] systems exist and have taken action to move towards something else."
Stovall attributed the fact that social justice issues are not very commonly discussed and are sometimes even met with hostility to a system that rewards indifferent behavior.
“We’re rewarded for it, so if we submit to this obliviousness, if we submit to being totally subdued in the random material things, it becomes easier to portray these issues as either not your concern, or to generate a false concern,” he said.
Stovall holds strong beliefs about the systems in place in society that he believes further contribute to systemic oppression in America. He believes the assumption that all Americans are born with equal privilege is a misguided view that ignores the social problems faced today.
“Equality is the assumption that everybody needs the same thing, and that’s not always the case,” he said.
According to Stovall, these systemic inequalities should be at the very forefront of society’s concerns. While Stovall acknowledges that raising one’s voice about something controversial isn’t easy to do and is even punished at times, he stresses the importance of recognizing these issues and actively choosing to take action against them.
“It’s important to really understand that struggle is in perpetuity; there’s not necessarily a beginning point and an end point," he said. "Because it’s so pervasive, it takes longitudinal work. There’s just no way around that."
Some students expressed a feeling of inspiration and motivation.
Sophomore Kimberley Jensen attended the event in order to accumulate extra credit points for a philosophy class, but left the event with more than she expected.
"I left feeling extremely motivated to be more in touch with the issues that surround our community," she said.
She named Stovall as being one of the most influential speakers the EC campus has seen.
“Of all the speakers I've seen at Elmhurst College, he is the only one I have walked up to and introduced myself," she said. "He was extremely passionate and didn't have an agenda where most speakers do; he simply wanted to ignite the passion in people to look closer at the world that surrounds them."
Junior Tristan Duff also commended Stovall's lecture.
“He was excellent, and I think the thing I liked most about him was that he was very well articulated, but he was still him, and it was a really natural lecture," he said. "I don’t recall him looking down at any notes, and you could tell he was passionate about everything he was saying."
Senior Brandon Thompson commented on the fact that Stovall’s lecture discussed several current-day issues rather than simply teaching the history of MLK.
“I just wanted to hear something new, because usually when they have an MLK lecture, they talk more about the MLK that we already know," he explained. "They talk about the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and they talk about history, but they don’t relate it to now, and I’m glad he did."
When asked if EC can hope to see Stovall on campus again in the future, Dr. Ford responded, “I hope so.