LATROBE, PA – On Tuesday, Jan. 22, more than 200 people attended the 2019 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration dinner in the Fred M. Rogers Center, hosted by the Saint Vincent office of multicultural student life and the SVC Uniting All People Club.
The dinner was a culmination of a series of events held at Saint Vincent to commemorate the late civil rights pioneer King, and featured Dr. Ivan Lamourt, assistant headmaster at St. Benedict Prep in Newark, New Jersey, as keynote speaker.
Saint Vincent sophomore Kyle Watson, the president of the SVC Uniting All People Club, served as master of ceremonies. Saint Vincent Archabbot and Chancellor Rt. Rev. Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B. and president Br. Norman W. Hipps, O.S.B., each offered welcoming remarks, while Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B., director of Campus Ministry, provided the invocation.
In addition to Lamourt’s powerful address (located below in its entirety), three Saint Vincent sophomores – Kyle Pope, a mathematics/engineering major from Martinsburg, West Virginia; Anne Pamphile a politics major from Turtle Creek; and Makenna Buffone, an environmental science major from Greensburg – each read excerpts from King’s landmark “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Saint Vincent English professor Dr. Michelle Gil-Montero announced the winners of the school’s Martin Luther King Jr. Poetry Competition. Senior Bridget Fertal, an English major from Lititz, recited her winning poem entitled “Mother.” The poem “My Child,” by sophomore psychology major Tyrique Anderson of Crofton, Maryland took second place, while “Hate is a Strong Word” by freshman Isabel Sicree of Boalsburg placed third.
Ishmael Solomon, assistant director of residence and multicultural student life, closed out the ceremony with final remarks.
The dinner celebration wrapped up a three-day commemoration of King, which included a day of community service on Saturday, Jan. 19, and on Jan. 21, a Mass of Celebration was held, while a dream center and various arts and crafts activities were held in the Robert S. Carey Student Center.
TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH DELIVERED BY DR. IVAN LAMOURT
“I am humbled and honored to be here with you this evening, at the Fred Rogers Center! When I was asked by Ishmael if I would come and speak here this evening, I was immediately overcome with emotion. All of the work that has been accomplished by Newark Abbey and St. Benedict’s Prep would not have been possible if not for this great Abbey here in Latrobe. Countless young men were given an opportunity because the monks at Saint Vincent accepted a challenge to establish a monastery in the city of Newark, New Jersey. And as God would have it, in that same manner, more than 20 years ago, Archabbot Douglas and Fr. Paul Taylor began to bring students, like Ishmael Solomon, from St. Benedict’s Prep back to Saint Vincent and give them an opportunity at life with a college degree. These men not only continue the legacy of Boniface Wimmer but are also an example of turning Faith into action! God is Great!
“I am also humbled by being in the Fred Rogers Center – Mr. Rogers was a childhood hero of mine, and I always wanted to “be his neighbor” but his world seemed far away from the streets of Newark where I grew up. Little did I know that Mr. Rogers’ lessons on community would resonate so strongly with my future work. If I may be so bold – it’s good to be in his hood!
“Saint Vincent College continues to lead by example, the importance of celebrating Dr. King’s life. The impact he had on American history without question deserves our attention. Dr. King exercised his freedom to the service of freeing others from the oppression of segregation and racism, and this is evident not only in this celebration but in the traditions of this college and monastery.
“When I told the young men of St. Benedict’s that I was coming to speak with you this evening, I asked them what they thought I should speak about. Almost immediately they told me that I should share with you that the cornerstone of what we do at St. Benedict’s is building a community of hope and love for everyone, just as Dr. King refused to exclude anyone from the circle of human concern.
“However, the reality is that they along with the young men and women of Saint Vincent are inheriting a world that many will say is spiraling out of control. Similar to 50-plus years ago, in 1968, they face a future that may seem unsure.
“We live in a time when bullying doesn’t just happen in schools but comes from seats of power and is embraced on network news. School shootings are now a probability and not a possibility. The opioid crisis continues to grow and claim more lives. Today, you are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than from a car crash.
“The racial divide in this country seems as wide as it has ever been as evidenced by students raising their hands in Nazi salutes. The very freedoms that our ancestors scarified and died for are at risk of disappearing. At times it may feel like the country is going to rip itself apart.
“When Benedict wrote his Rule, society also seemed to be falling apart. Benedictine monasteries - like this one and Newark Abbey, with their message of balance and moderation, stability, hospitality and community - showed the world that there is another way. As it is often said in the African American community – We will make a way out of no way. It seems that Dr. King and the Benedictines have a lot in common!
“But let’s lay this right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. The only way to destroy them is to expose them – to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. We must be vigilant and not be fooled into thinking that everything is okay because some of us make it. It's not ok, when unarmed black men are gunned down in the street and the video remains hidden for more than a year. Just like it’s not ok when young men of color gun each other down and we breathe a sigh of relief because ‘it didn't happen here where we live.’ It’s not ok when young women have to live in fear of being sexually assaulted at school or at work.
“Things are not okay when people are run over because they are standing against evil or shot in a synagogue praying for peace. Just like the bombing that claimed the lives of the four young girls in Birmingham over 50 years ago, this is a call to action! As Dr. King stated, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“In order to defeat this evil, we require the courage to act not only for ourselves but also for those who are too afraid to act. This is a call to put your faith into action, and we must respond to this call. Violence, poverty and poor educational opportunities are the results of waiting, and are the tools used to keep people enslaved.
“When we do not respond to this call, and allow hate, racism and bigotry to go on day by day and year by year, the groundwork is then created for those who are disenfranchised to lose hope. As a young man recently said to me ‘when you realize that you could become a number, when you can do everything right and still get shot, it’s easy to lose faith that things will change.’”
“When there is a vacuum created by a lack of faith and hope, fear rises and takes hold of those who are disconnected. I believe it is up to us, up to you, to live up to the values that have been instilled in us by the teachings of Dr. King and reinforced here at Saint Vincent! We must all be involved in this effort because we are responsible for the future.
“We have the power to change this country, to change history, with the decisions we make every day. We must not let fear keep us from dreaming about a future that is free of racism, sexism and hate. Do not let fear paralyze you and keep you from acting. We must have the courage to call racism RACISM.
“Archbishop Romero stated, ‘You cannot reap what you have not sown! How are we going to reap love in our community if we only sow hate! Each one of us, each one of you, has to be God's microphone.’” But how do you build trust when it doesn't exist? Who could look at the news today and not desire change? King gave us both a practical and spiritual way forward. Dr. King’s lessons on love and non-violence remain a powerful alternative, another way of viewing life and people.
“Dr. King reminds us that we must pay attention to structures, whether they are physical or not. We don’t need to build walls, we need to build hope. Unjust laws must be challenged. Even in our imperfections, we must love and insist upon love.
“Our Holy Father Benedict and Dr. King both realized that the greatest weapon we have against evil is love. The response to hate must always be love. Someday, I hope, your children or your grandchildren will ask you what side did you stand on during this difficult period of time in our country's history. I pray that you will be able to answer that with the actions you will take today, tomorrow and the next day.
“This moment in time is crucial. This is your moment. We cannot change the past, but we can work together to change the future. Dr. King taught us that in order to HAVE freedom you must be ready to FIGHT for freedom. You may have to do some uncomfortable things and be ready to stand for those who are defenseless. As Mr. Rogers said, I’m convinced that when we help or children find healthy ways of dealing with their feelings, ways that don’t hurt them or anyone else, we are helping to make our world a safer, better place.
“We must have the courage to go forward. Dr. King’s example encourages us to remember, let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world.”
Photo 1: Dr. Ivan Lamourt addresses the crowd at the Martin Luther King Celebration Dinner on Jan. 22 in the Fred M. Rogers Center.
Photo 2: Saint Vincent College sophomore Kyle Pope reads an excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”
Photo 3: Saint Vincent assistant director of residence and multicultural life Ishmael Solomon (left), Dr. Ivan Lamourt and Chancellor Rt. Rev Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B.
A full photo gallery from Saint Vincent College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration can be found at this link on the Saint Vincent Flickr account.
YouTube: Saint Vincent College