In a 1947 publication of the Morehouse College student paper, The Maroon Tiger, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, "The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically."
This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Williams College, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, offers the entire Berkshire County community a dozen opportunities to think in the exact manner that King suggests.
Taj P. Smith, assistant director of The Davis Center (formerly The Multicultural Center) at Williams College, is leading the revival and expansion of the celebration, to allow participants to consider the messages of Martin Luther King Jr. in a broader context.
"The purpose of the event is for people to know and be reminded of MLK’s legacy, and to look not just at him, but at the social movements around his time. It’s also an opportunity to think about what issues are prevalent today and how we’re managing them in our time," Smith said.
There are a dozen events being planned with the efforts of 13 Williams departments and community businesses. The events range from film screenings; classes on topics like leadership and activism; a meditation workshops and labyrinth; and essay readings by children from Williamstown and Brayton elementary schools.
Smith said the events are all geared toward students and members of the college community, as well as the community at large. Some events are specifically geared toward young people, like Sunday’s kick-off event, a screening of the film "Brave New Voices" at Mass MoCA.
The HBO film documents teens and young adults using spoken word poetry to empower themselves to talk about issues such as oppression, gender, identity among other topics. Smith said middle, high school and college students are highly encouraged to attend this event.
"I think it will be good and helpful for them to see that other people their age are thinking about issues in their lives critically,’ Smith said.
Smith said the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at Williams used to be held over multiple days in its early years. The event dwindled, until Smith took it over last year. He said he and his colleagues selected programs and presenters this year, with the intent to engage as many people across as many demographics as possible.
"I think for the school, Williams itself, [this event] is a chance to take advantage of the educational opportunities we have and explore how we can use our education to address social issues," said Smith.
"For the community at large, I think it’s an opportunity to build relationships between colleges and communities, to develop partnerships and for people to be inspired to go off and do something in their own communities. Just generally speaking though, this is about people learning," he said.