U-M Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium


Discussions surrounding this year’s theme forced me to reevaluate my upbringing and dissect the ‘innocent’ children’s stories that I had grown up with. I suppose being a first-time parent to a three-year-old boy has also added some color to my perspective on “the classics” that I never questioned in the past. I found myself listening for messages in a way I never paid attention to before. I looked for new contexts in the narratives that built the framework of my youth.

Analyzing childhood stories through an adult lens provided a different perspective on what they really meant. I learned how much I really did not understand about the shows and books that I consumed over and over again as a child. This led me to begin thinking about all of the novels and textbooks I read as an adolescent. It challenged me to analyze the assignments and coursework I completed in college. It made me analyze the foundation of my education, and look for ways to better inform my work, my colleagues, my friends, my family, and myself.

Researching this year’s theme of (mis)education, I was inspired to focus on the impact of biased tropes and controlled messaging prevalent in educational, political, social, and financial institutions around the world. Most of this messaging was established through a singular lens yet promoted as universal.

The artwork imagery features a pencil atop a triangle with two holes. The pencil represents education in a broad sense (not schooling). The triangle with two eyes cutout is a subtle reference to the pointed hood which is one of the iconic symbols of the white supremacist group, the Klu Klux Klan. Taken together this represents the subtle and often hidden ways in which our institutions socialize us into a dominant narrative of whiteness that is exclusionary.

Today, many barriers have been torn down to pave the path for marginalized communities in our society. As institutions transform practices and include discussions on race, religion, gender, disabilities, socioeconomic status, mental health, voting rights, sexual orientation, the criminal justice system, health care and the right to education, progressive conversations will be pushed to the forefront of mainstream society, and problematic cultural norms of yesterday will be challenged. I am inspired knowing that my son will be a part of that social shift.