Martin Luther King's Legacy: A Call for Justice and Empathy

A week of activities marked Westover's celebration of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including a chapel talk focusing on a commitment to justice and empathy.

Demar Lewis IV was the guest speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Chapel Service January 24.

Martin Luther King's Legacy: A Call for Justice and Empathy

When Demar Lewis IV addressed the Westover community as this year's Martin Luther King Chapel speaker January 24, he recalled that, as a student at Regis Jesuit High School in Denver, Colorado, he and his fellow students were taught that "it was our job ... to use our knowledge and resources to do good in the world."

What Demar hadn't realized at the time, he said, was "that the rest of the world isn't like Regis ... the rest of the world isn't like Westover." So, he asked, why do schools like Regis and Westover teach these values to its students?

"I believe they do it for a simple reason," Demar said. "They want us to challenge ourselves to change the world. They want us to be leaders and to the best in all of our endeavors so that it ensures that there are people who know that when they are in a position to do or say something that they will do or say something" to keep the spirit of justice alive.

A Ph.D. student in the Departments of Sociology and African American Studies at Yale University, Demar is researching how historical forms of violence, such as lynching in the United States, inform how we see activities such as fatal police encounters and deportation today. He cites the work of King and other "social justice warriors" as being "among a select group of people that originally inspired me to carry on the work of justice" in his own life.

Demar cautioned his audience to remember that justice is not something that is achieved overnight. Instead, he said, justice is "a way of being" that "requires perpetual action and reflection" to end inequities in the world.

One of King's principle messages, Demar noted, was a commitment to empathy, so that individuals "can see past their individual prejudices and biases to acknowledge the human condition of others and the necessity to eradicate the forces of evil that perpetuate oppression and injustice in the world."

In his own life, Demar said, he has "been challenged to be empathetic" to those friends and colleagues who are undocumented immigrants and members of the LGBT+ community. "Empathy, like justice, is a persistent journey that requires passion, reflection, action, and – most important – listening to those who you are trying to empathize with, so you can live your life in a way which does not invalidate their personhood and allows them to live their best, most productive, and natural lives. That is what justice requires and that is, to me, what Dr. King's call for empathy is all about."

The music for this year's Martin Luther King Chapel service echoed Demar's call to act on behalf of justice. Assistant Directors of Admissions Tammara Gary and Katie Leone performed a rousing version of Andra Day's "Rise Up," and the service concluded with the assembly singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which has come to be known as the Black National Anthem.

The annual Martin Luther King Chapel Service was just one of a number of events and activities during the week that were organized by Mary Taylor, Director of Diversity and Inclusion, along with the Rasin Center for Global Justice to honor King's legacy. These included:

• Westover's Letterpress Collective offered members of the community the opportunity to print a broadsheet featuring a King quotation: "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve."

• The weekly Peer Support meeting featured a discussion on different topics relating to race and social justice.

• At the January 23 morning assembly, the heads of the Westover African-American and Latina Student Association (WALSA) gave a presentation on the lives of the activists Coretta Scott King, Sophia Cruz, and Daisy Bates.

• The Adams Library featured a book display highlighting King, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the lives of inspiring women activists and civil rights leaders throughout the history of the United States.

• On Westover's social media, students, faculty, and staff members were invited to share their own aspirations in a #IHaveADream photo campaign, among other Twitter and Instagram posts that celebrated King's legacy.

Katie Leone (left) and Tammara Gary perform "Rise Up" during the annual Martin Luther King Chapel Service.