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Clarkson celebrates African heritage, Martin Luther King’s legacy


POTSDAM — Clarkson University combined a celebration of African heritage with a commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday night, with a look at how the civil rights leader’s legacy continues to change the world.

Visitors could try African tea as they found a seat for the first event of the night, a panel of African-born students and professors who talked about what life is like in their homeland.

While the Rev. Mr. King’s campaign to achieve equality for black Americans has little to do with the problems facing modern-day Africa, his lessons about equality and peaceful activism are universal, the panelists said.

“For me, Martin Luther King Jr. is an important figure. I see him as a son of Africa, but also as someone who spoke out about important ideas,” said Sybille N. Nyeck, a political science professor originally from Cameroon.

The Rev. Mr. King was part of a movement that allowed America to be critical of itself, she said, which allowed change in many areas, not just the perception of race. This mindset has yet to reach many African nations, she said.

“We have to get serious about social justice,” she said.

Student Lorraine G. Njoki hopes to do just that.

Miss Njoki was born in Kenya. Her mother won a green card lottery and moved to New York City, bringing 7-year-old Lorraine with her.

Miss Njoki is now a senior at Clarkson, studying innovation and entrepreneurship with a minor in political science. Her passion is socially conscious businesses, which are designed not to make a huge profit but to benefit the world in some way.

Increasingly popular microlending firms, which recruit people to provide small loans to businesses in developing countries, are an example.

Miss Njoki donated $50 to a small electronics shop in Kenya, and plans to create a campus organization devoted to microlending.

Unlike charities, social businesses are able to turn enough of a profit to sustain themselves, which means they need not rely on government grants or charitable donations to pursue their missions.

“There are so many issues that are going on to be solved through money,” Miss Njoki said.

She hopes to join a social business when she graduates next year.

While much of the night’s discussion focused on Africa, America is still far from social equality, said Professor Bebonchu Atems.

Mr. Atems said his own life can be seen as a fulfillment of the Rev. Mr. King’s dream. Born and raised in Cameroon, he was able to receive scholarships to get an American college education. While racism still exists, it is on its way out, he said.

“It’s not about being post-racial,” he said. “It’s about being post-racist.”

However, even as racial equality becomes ever more likely, economic injustice is still rampant, he said.

The slain civil rights leader’s ideal “was a dream of racial equality as much as it was a dream of economic equality,” Mr. Atems said, reminding the crowd that the Rev. Mr. King’s most famous march was originally called “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.”

The dream will never be truly fulfilled until all forms of discrimination, no matter what the cause, are rooted out, he said.

After the panel talk, singers and musicians performed African music for the crowd.

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