In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Center for Intercultural Learning and Inclusion hosts a series of events each year, all of which begin with the MLK Jr. Dinner. On Tuesday, January 21st the Saint Anselm College community gathered to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King as well as the efforts of others who have been inspired by his message and his dream, including some of our very own.
The event began with students reading excerpts from poems that resonated with them when they thought about race and the world around them. One student’s poem choice resonated in particular with the audience. Larissa Charitable, ‘20, read aloud Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again”, a misnomer that aims to debunk the myth that America was never a fully idealized place and continues to need immense growth. Hughes’s poem asks, “‘to build a homeland of the free’ The free? Who said the free? Not me?” to which he answers “let America be America again- The land that never has been yet”.
Beautifully orated, Charitable’s choice of poem came as a needed reminder that we must never stop speaking the truth while injustice continues to occur, and that idealizing a place as having ever been perfect leaves out forgotten histories, making true progress all the more difficult.
One of the main events of the MLK Dinner is the presentation of the MLK Social Justice Awards. These awards aim to highlight one Saint Anselm College student and one faculty or staff member who shows great leadership, compassion, and courage when it comes to advocating for social justice in our community.
The faculty award was presented to Professor Max Latona from the Philosophy Department. Latona is the Executive Director of the College’s Center for Ethics and Business in Governance, as well as the co-founder of Inti Academy, a non-profit that serves refugee, immigrant, and underprivileged children in Manchester. Working in this capacity for 10 years, Latona provided immense resources for these underrepresented groups in the Manchester area, ensuring them a place to develop together.
The student award was presented to senior, Richard Cabrera ’20. Cabrera was selected for the work he has done advancing the rights, representation, and empowerment of his peers on campus. Despite the difficulty, Rich is persistent and demonstrates impressive and admirable dedication to his community. He is constantly presented with an uphill battle at our predominantly white college, but nonetheless he continues fighting for what is right. Despite this, he has continued to be a strong force for change, as well as compassion. Like Dr. King, Cabrera manages the paradox of both confronting the injustice and prejudice in the world while also maintaining a positive outlook on life and what things could become. This balancing act is a struggle for most people, however, Rich performs it with ease.
Not only does Cabrera advocate for social justice on campus, he is a Forensic Science major, pursuing his degree and accomplishing what he initially came to Saint A’s to do. Cabrera has also been involved with the Intercultural Center’s Transitions program, which is a pre-orientation program designed to allow students from underrepresented groups (and anyone else who wants to apply) the opportunity to arrive on campus early to prepare themselves for the adjustment to college. In this capacity, Cabrera served as a mentor for three years, both to his mentees and also the rest of the program and the campus.
Cabrera is a Resident Assistant and has been for two years, serving the college in yet another capacity. In this role, Cabrera has continued to stand up for his ideals, even when it was made difficult or uncomfortable for him to do so. He shows great courage in ensuring that all Anselmians are not looked over, forgotten, or disrespected, whether it be by fellow students, faculty, or staff. Cabrera serves as the President of our school’s Multicultural Student Coalition, a student group that provides a safe space for all students to gather, develop, and address change that needs to occur on campus.
College students normally have a lot to manage on top of their academics, but someone like Rich shows a kind of strength that is rare and should always be highlighted. Not only did he move from California to New Hampshire, heat for cold, home cooked meals for Davison, a community that understood and respected him to one that needed a LOT of work, but he also never let that defeat him. He had the option to return home and end his time at Saint A’s, but he decided to stay and work to make this new home as good as it could be, and our Anselmian community is forever thankful.
I have known Rich personally and have seen the work he has done on this campus firsthand. He goes out of his way consistently to make sure that injustice anywhere is stomped out. He has advocated for all underrepresented communities on campus equally, but the most inspiring for me to have watched is the role he plays for the LatinX community on campus. He has mentored these students to believe in and advocate for themselves, helping them succeed on campus and showing them what they are capable of. We still have a lot of work to do on this campus, but there is no doubt in any of our minds that because of Rich’s legacy the path to get there will be much less rocky for the people who follow in his shoes.