The fourth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address took place on Friday at the Student Union, attracting a diverse audience of 400.
The keynote speaker of the night was Dr. Michelle Alexander, a civil rights lawyer, advocate, legal scholar and current Ohio State University professor, who teaches at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity there. Alexander presented details of her lecture, what she labels “the issue of the New Jim Crow Laws”.
Alexander’s first book in 2010 is titled “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”
The publication and her Soros Justice Fellowship, received in 2005, was the foundation for Alexander’s keynote address. Alexander tackled issues of wrongful imprisonment, misidentification, the struggles previously incarcerated members of the public go through to gain employment after their release and possible holes in the United States legal system.
While Dr. Alexander examines race, class and gender with respect to U.S. history and society, she also incorporated these ideas in terms of their impact on current issues within the U.S. in an attempt to increase the awareness, understanding and “undeniability” of the very issues which affect society.
Alexander impressed the attentive audience with her own, personal experience. She helped to lead a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement during her time as Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California and the ideas she shared with the audience were emotion-filled and heartfelt as she expressed her desire to “impact the racial discriminations within what should be a modern justice system.”
Dr. Alexander not only provided an opportunity to learn more about the U.S. legal system and its effect on communities of color, but also incorporated the legacy of King into her lecture.
She forced the crowd to question its own role in working towards a more just society and expressing the freedoms of this nation to make society work for us all as a “solitary community and not just for ones own personal satisfaction”.
Alexander discussed the Midwest Innocence Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing pro-bono legal and investigative services for people wrongly convicted and imprisoned, as well as the Jobs for Justice program which aims at providing ex-felons with working opportunies nationwide. The keynote lecture ended with a positive reception from the audience for Dr. Alexander.
The annual Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Lecture, which was sponsored by UMKC’s Division of Diversity, Access and Equity (DAE), was a success, and after such a large turnout, should continue to be successful in years to come.