Students share stories of resilience and hope at annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Martin Luther King Jr., speaking at the Washington Monument, is pictured. (via National Park Service)

Disclaimer: Jesse Najarro is a former news editor for the Tufts Daily. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Students, faculty and alumni gathered on Jan. 22 in Breed Memorial Hall to commemorate the life and legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by sharing stories of overcoming hardship and discrimination, both at and outside of Tufts. The event, titled “A Single Garment of Destiny: Stories of Resilience and Hope,” draws its name from a King quote and was sponsored by the University chaplaincy.

Grace Talusan, a lecturer in the English department, opened the event with welcoming remarks before introducing a time for student stories. The students recounted their experiences related to race, faith, hardship and family. 

First-year Kamar Godoy, the first student speaker, opened his speech with a quote from Dr. King, focusing on the faith and courage of the civil rights activist. He recalled actively attending church in his hometown of Los Angelés, Calif., and his decision to continue strengthening his faith at Tufts by attending Mass on campus.

“Faith is a cup, and it is a cup within you, and when I go to church it refills that cup with encouragement and refills that cup with the word … with everything that I need to get through the rest of my week,” Godoy, a first-year, said.

Jesse Najarro spoke next, sharing the challenges he faced growing up as a Latino from an immigrant family. Najarro, a senior, spoke about the lack of Latino representation in film and media and emphasized the exclusion and isolation he felt as a result. 

“I remember watching a movie called ‘Latter Days’ and the film is so sad and what made me sadder was that I couldn’t relate to some of the characters,” he said. “I was a Latino kid from a Central American immigrant family and I remember just crying and not understanding what I was going through.”

Najarro concluded by describing how he has worked to find his voice in this environment.

“I broke the silence and spoke my truth … little by little I have tried to build myself up,” he said.

Senior Ashley Alphonse then spoke about her own experience overcoming sadness. Dedicating her speech to her mother, she detailed the overwhelming grief her family felt after her father’s passing and her admiration for her mother’s strength.

“Whenever I feel like I’m struggling and I really just can’t persevere, I think about how much she had on her shoulder and how much she had to do for us and how hard that must’ve been,” Alphonse said.

Next, Xavier Brooks spoke about his father’s love for rap music and how it impacted the process of his father’s divorce. Brooks, a first-year, said that his father often hummed songs and spoke confidently, but during the divorce, he could not.

“That was the first time where he has ever spoken to me and it looked like it hurt … I could see it in his eyes that he was really going through something,” he said.

He related his father’s resilience to the need to correct current issues in the political system.

“My message to you all is that, like my dad, we as a nation make the tough decisions to figure out the flaws in our system and do our best to correct them,” Brooks said.

Following a speech, first-year Symon Savatphong shared a story of the violence that riddled his hometown in Rhode Island, specifically the presence of gangs.

“I became a victim of my community … I was trapped in this way of life,” Savatphong said. “I just happened to fall into it.”

He noted that he fought to change his way life during his first year of high school when his mother was hospitalized.

“After that I realized that I really did have to change because I was just throwing away everything that my mom did for me, she sacrificed so much to support her family,” he said.

The final student speaker, first-year Lillian Mousad, also shared an instance of violence that felt personal to her. She described the moment when she learned of the bombing of a Coptic church in Cairo, Egypt that killed twenty-nine people.

“I had heard about things like what happens in the Middle East, but never thought it could happen to the place that I call home,” she said.

Despite this incident, Mousad recognized the strength of her church.

“My Coptic church has not been destroyed and instead became victorious … love cannot be torn apart,” Mousad said.

During the panel discussion at the second part of the event, Kendra Field, an associate professor of history, moderated a conversation between Zerlina Maxwell (A ’03) and Christina Greer (J ’00).

Maxwell, the director of progressive programming at SiriusXM and a political analyst for MSNBC, spoke about her experience at Tufts and emphasized the importance using our voices to share our different opinions and perspectives.

“One of the biggest things that I learned about going here [to Tufts] is that if there isn’t anybody else in the room, it’s unfortunate, but you do often have to speak on behalf of the folks who are like you who are not in the room,” she said. “I learned how to be that person in the room who raises an objection and has an additional point.”

Greer, an associate professor of political science at Fordham University, also shared about her experience at Tufts. Greer stressed the value of using the resources available at Tufts to find and build a strong community.

“When I look back on my time here, it’s incredibly positive as far as diverse friends, diverse experiences, great mentorship,” she said.


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