Each year, when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rolls around, a flood of emotions come to mind. Celebration, inspiration, motivation, and hope to name a few; but this year’s MLK Week theme may appear quite the opposite of these positive sentiments at first. We’ve asked the 2020 MLK Committee Chair, Teshia Griswold-Koffi, to share some insight as to how to committee arrived at the chosen theme, what it means to her, and how we can expect this vision to at each event!
If we can challenge ourselves to redefine its purpose and meaning as an integral part of the journey and then overcome it, fear now becomes more of a choice
When the committee began to ponder what the focus of the week should be, they originally thought of topics associated with joy and positivity. That is until, as Griswold-Koffi recalls, one member stated, “Wait…this kind of work isn’t easy!” In order to better acknowledge the challenges and rigorous work that comes before any celebration, they then decided to dive deeper into what the journey to victory consists of, “the good, bad, and ugly,” as Griswold-Koffi describes. One thing was apparent, fear is always there when it comes to fighting for change and social justice. It’s impossible to find examples of any successful movement without first understanding what was overcome to get there. This led to the idea of using fear as an acronym to reposition it as a more useful tool to Face Everything And Rise.
Different from its antithesis (Fear Everything And Run), Griswold-Koffi reasons, “It is imperative to understand that nothing about advocating for civil rights was easy or comfortable… fear is real. Danger is real. But if we can challenge ourselves to redefine its purpose and meaning as an integral part of the journey and then overcome it, fear now becomes more of a choice.” This understanding of what is making us fearful and how that fear affects us takes its power to paralyze away and reshapes it into something that sparks motivation to press on.
I’m a firm believer that you can always identify an authentic leader by how much they are willing to sacrifice for what is right
Revolutionaries like Martin Luther King, Jr. exhibit this ability to make tangible steps towards progress while carrying their fears with them, a quality that Griswold-Koffi believes is crucial positions of leadership. She explains, “I’m a firm believer that you can always identify an authentic leader by how much they are willing to sacrifice for what is right.” In her own experience, Griswold-Koffi has often observed the heavy-lifting of a movement done at a grassroots level, while those with the power to make change seem too afraid to use their positions. Griswold-Koffi urges us to look to leaders like Aisha Moodie-Mills, our 2020 keynote, as examples of leadership meeting progress while in the company of fear.
For MLK Week, as we reflect on the progress that’s been made and remember the necessary work we still face, we hope you’ll join us in the spirit of harnessing fear and putting it towards moving causes important to you forward into the future. As Griswold-Koffi summarizes, “We will never move if everyone is standing still.”
MLK Week is an annual event that provides the campus community a platform to discuss contemporary civil rights issues and race in America. This upcoming MLK Week’s theme, Face Everything And Rise, will challenge us to redefine the definition of fear and its role in the fight for freedom and equality.
A full list of MLK Week events can be found at diversity.utah.edu/mlk.