Campus News

Reimagine a better America, MLK speaker urges

If Americans cannot envision a country without racism, the goal can’t be achieved, said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

LaTosha Brown
“What would America look like without racism?” LaTosha Brown asked the audience at the Feb. 22 event. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Students selected the question “What are we striving for?” as the theme for the 41st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture and Awards ceremony. Keynote speaker LaTosha Brown answered the question with one of her own.

“What would America look like without racism?” she asked the audience who attended the hybrid event Feb. 22 in the Frank Porter Graham Student Union Great Hall. The co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund and a fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Brown said the exercise is an important step in a process of change.

“If we don’t answer that question, we will never get there,” she explained. Brown compared the process to technological innovations that changed everyday life. Someone had to imagine search engines, smartphones and streaming services before they could be created, and once they existed, “the entire world shifted.”

Today’s political landscape is also shifting, Brown said. “A total realignment is happening,” she said. Recognizing structural and institutional racism has been a critical and difficult first step — even for those who oppose it. “It is so embedded in every single system that we are attached to that there is a certain level of discomfort that even we feel when those systems are shifting.”

LaTosha Brown

LaTosha Brown delivered the keynote at the 41st annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture and Awards ceremony. (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

She challenged the students and their generation to “create the America we desire and deserve” by taking these steps:

  • Reassess the current situation honestly.
  • Recommit to shift the paradigm.
  • Reaffirm that human beings have value.
  • Reimagine every system without racism.

Brown also cautioned her audience not to see politics “like a Super Bowl” with a red team and a blue team. They should look past differences to find common ground. “The challenge in America is that we do not know how to disagree and hold each other’s humanity,” she said. “Tap into your higher selves, your higher thoughts.”

Brown ended her talk as she began it, using her powerful voice to sing spirituals that propelled the civil rights movement.

“Keep your eyes on the prize,” she sang. “Hold on.”

The ceremony also included presentations of the following awards.

2022 MLK UNC Student Scholarship:

Sherrod Crum, a junior studying business administration and entrepreneurship, received the $2,000 scholarship. Runners-up Rhea Bhagia, a junior studying business administration and statistics and analytics, and Jorren Biggs, a junior studying African, African American and diaspora studies and political science, each received $1,500 scholarships.

MLK Unsung Heroes:

  • E. Nathan Thomas III, vice dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the School of Medicine.
  • Kellye Whitaker, SmartUp program manager at the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

Look for The Well’s story about the MLK Unsung Heroes tomorrow.