Activist, lecturer to lead Wittenberg MLK Convocation

: Ericka Huggins, an educator, poet and activist who has also been a Black Panther Party leader and spent time as a political prisoner, will be the featured speaker at Wittenberg University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, to be presented virtually on Tuesday. Courtesy photo
: Ericka Huggins, an educator, poet and activist who has also been a Black Panther Party leader and spent time as a political prisoner, will be the featured speaker at Wittenberg University's Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation, to be presented virtually on Tuesday. Courtesy photo

Ericka Huggins was on the front lines of some of America’s most sweeping social changes of the 1960s and 70s. From participating in the March on Washington for civil rights in 1963 to being a Black Panther Party leader to becoming a political prisoner in a case that drew national attention, she experienced and grew a lot in a short time.

Those experiences translated into a life as an activist, lecturer, educator and poet. With the country going through another turbulent period, Huggins’ will share her thoughts as the featured speaker at Wittenberg University’s Martin Luther. King, Jr. Convocation, presented virtually, noon to 12:50 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19.

The Facebook Live presentation will be available for live-streaming on Wittenberg’s Facebook page and its YouTube page.

The main question students ask Huggins is what can they do to promote positive change. Her address, titled “A Brave Space for Conversation,” will talk about issues facing us, which don’t just stem from things that occurred in 2020.

“It’s the ability to talk across things like gender and race and say I need to feel safe to be as honest as can be and to listen for understanding,” she said.

ExplorePHOTOS: Fulton Elementary Holds Peace March

Huggins reminds that movements are nothing new in the U.S., dating back to the slaves, and settlers rising up to rid the land of British rule. There were women and immigrants speaking up to be treated as human beings.

“There have always been movements for what is right and what isn’t,” she said. “Everybody deserves a quality of life, every human being.”

Huggins was as unsettled at the unrest at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as most people were, the loss of life especially.

“It’s sad there was a woman killed at the Capitol. I didn’t even know her name,” she said.

Huggins’ compares the understanding of the Constitution to an eroding hill from a torrential rain storm. Yet the hopeful message is to do something with two main things: love and action.

“We need to be honest and compassionate when we talk, both sides,” she said. “That talking has to come with action. I think of what action would I need to take having done that throughout my life.

“These divisions didn’t begin in 2016. History is not static. There have been unheeded warnings about history but how are we with one another.”

Huggins sees narrowing the divide as a key, but doing it differently.

“Maybe we can. There is always hope for that, a hope my kids and grandkids will be able to figure it out before I close my eyes,” she said.

ExploreCOVID test required for Wittenberg, but not Clark State students on return for spring semester

The presentation will include music from the Imani Gospel Choir, followed by Huggins’ introduction by Concerned Black Students president Jhiara Henderson.

The MLK convocation is normally presented as part of the Wittenberg Series of lectures and events, which was canceled for 2020-21 year due to pandemic restrictions. The convocation is traditionally held in Weaver Chapel on the campus and includes faculty and student speakers and musical performances on Martin Luther King Day.

Dr. Nancy McHugh of Wittenberg’s Department of Philosophy, said the faculty and students recognized how important the convocation was. She and the student advisory committee worked with Wittenberg’s Concerned Black Students group to see how they could present things differently and chose the virtual approach.

The students submitted a list of names they’d like as speakers with Huggins at the top, and were thrilled when she was available.

“The students had a strong voice in this. Ms. Huggins is a really important person to speak for the times we are in right now and with her commitment to restorative justice,” McHugh said.

This is the first time the convocation is being done on a Tuesday, which is the students’ first day back following the winter break and it allows for a week of activities relating to MLK. These will range from historical to contemporary issues. Activities, some of which are open to the public, are listed on Wittenberg’s Around the Hollow page on its website.

In Other News