Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular man who decided he would do great things, Soledad O’Brien said Tuesday (Jan. 17) at the 36th annual MLK Celebration Keynote Lecture and Award Ceremony.
“That means for the rest of us that we have that same opportunity,’’ said O’Brien, an award-winning journalist, documentarian, news anchor and producer. “Because if it’s magic then it’s out of our hands — but if actually he’s a regular person who made the decision that he would do great things, then I think that is an opportunity for all of us.”
O’Brien gave the keynote address in Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill to a packed crowd that included Chancellor Carol L. Folt and other University leaders, plus students, faculty and staff.
The event, co-hosted by The Carolina Union Activities Board and Diversity and Multicultural Affairs with support from other organizations, was part of Carolina’s week-long observance of King, which included the MLK “The Time is Now” 5K on Monday as part of the 14th annual MLK Day of Service and other events throughout the week.
During Tuesday’s ceremony, awards and recognitions were presented to faculty, staff, students and members of the community — individuals who already have taken advantage of their opportunities to stimulate change.
Carolina students Rubi Franco Quiroz, Andre Bicalho Ceccotti and Trinity Johnson received MLK Scholarships, given annually to juniors who best exemplify King’s commitment to society.
Benjamin Frey, assistant professor of American studies, and Franklin Seymore, zone manager of Carolina’s housekeeping services, won Unsung Hero Awards, presented to faculty, staff or community members who embody King’s legacy and spirit.
Also recognized was Roland Hedgepeth, father of Faith Hedgepeth, a Carolina student who was killed in 2012. She served as inspiration for this year’s theme, Keeping the Faith: A Call to Press On.
In 2013, O’Brien launched Starfish Media Group, a multi-platform media production and distribution company dedicated to uncovering and producing stories that challenge the issues of race, class, wealth, poverty and opportunity through personal narratives. She originated the documentary series, In America, which included Black in America and Latino in America and is still produced by her production company.
She showed clips of some of her documentaries during the lecture, which focused on the opportunity each and every individual has to spark social change.
“Every step forward toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle,” she said.
O’Brien said her role in sparking social change is to continue to tell other people’s compelling stories, elevating their narratives. Telling — and most importantly listening to — people’s stories, she said, is the best solution we have to move forward as a society.
“What will be my service?” she asked. “To tell the stories of all Americans — whether they look like me or not, whether they agree with me or not — and seek to understand them and accurately reflect their stories.”
People can choose to fight for social justice, O’Brien said, by fighting against their own biases. They can look for more people and listen to their stories. They can try to understand. The choice, however, belongs to each individual. O’Brien ended her lecture challenging the audience.
“What are you going to do?”
Story by Will Rimer and photos by Jon Gardiner, Office of University Communications
Published January 18, 2017