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Antioch College

Poet Latisha Lashay, pictured at left, and the Coretta Scott King Center Executive Director Shadia Alvarez shared a moment as Lashay prepared to perform at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day program at the center on Monday, Jan. 16. (Photo by Cheryl Durgans)

Anchoring the Coretta Scott King Center in Black history

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This month, the Coretta Scott King Center for Cultural and Intellectual Freedom, or CSKC, will host programming in honor of Black History Month, including the A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. Memorial Lecture on Feb. 24, 6–8:30 p.m., at the center.

Black History Month’s precursor, “Negro History Week,” was established by African American educator and scholar Carter G. Woodson through the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in February 1926. The organization’s purpose was to establish a dedicated time during the year in which African Americans could collectively learn about, and honor, important historical events, movements and people that have contributed to African American advancements throughout the course of history. Some sources identify the shift toward making it a month-long event as occurring as early as the 1940s, while others suggest a month-long expansion was embraced in the 1970s.

The Higginbotham lecture will feature civil rights activist David Fankhauser, who in 1961, at the age of 19, was recruited by the civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality to become a Freedom Rider to Jackson, Mississippi. Fankhauser was subjected to violence for protesting racial segregation on interstate buses in the South. He will be joined by Village Council member, long-time resident and caregiver Carmen Brown, who uses her background and elected position to advocate for the needs of the working class, and Greene County precinct captain for the Democratic Party, villager Shonda Sneed.

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This year’s convening, named after African American civil rights activist, historian, presidential advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson and federal court judge A. Leon Higginbotham, is an intersectional conversation. According to CSKC Executive Director and Officer for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Shadia Alvarez, the conversation will explore change-making.

“We want to not just talk about voting rights, but the importance of  thinking of oneself as an agent of change. And what does that look like? How do you think of yourself as someone that can actually create change — whether it’s by one’s vote, or whether it’s by one’s action,” she said in a recent interview with the News.

The center will also provide Black History Month programming at the state prison in Chillicothe on Feb. 16 as part of a collaboration with the World House Choir.

“Dr. McGruder [Antioch College history professor] and I will be leading a workshop on the life of Martin Luther King and Coretta. That’s important to us because we believe that we don’t exist outside ourselves, and there is some work that we must do to overcome the harm, and the injustice,” Alvarez said.

She also said the center will co-host a private meeting with 15 local anti-racist groups, “or groups that define themselves as doing anti-racist or diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] work in Yellow Springs” on Tuesday, Feb. 28, at the Bryan Community Center. According to Alvarez, the group meeting is not a public event because of capacity issues, and CSKC is starting out with a smaller group of organizations before expanding the dialogue.

“Given the amount of feedback we’ve gotten about making it broader, it definitely won’t be the last time we do it. But we started small, thinking that we wanted to have a real intimate conversation with some of the movers and shakers, and it just kind of blossomed,” Alvarez said.

CSKC Center evolution

The Coretta Scott King Center, named after one of the nation’s great African American contributors to social justice movements and the advancement of human rights, perhaps holds a similarity to a Russian matryoshka — a wooden doll that has the capacity to hold several smaller dolls in its internal chambers, and symbolizes fertility. The largest doll, representing the mother, shelters the smaller dolls, and the smallest doll represents the seed or legacy. While King’s legacy is often recognized and honored worldwide, the center itself is a hub for diverse local, and increasingly regional, social justice-oriented programming that aligns with King’s vision.

“For me, being able to bring Coretta’s vision to life, grounding the work of the center on the connection between learning and reflecting, acting and being, is crucial to furthering the development of humanity,” wrote Alvarez in a follow-up email to the News.

According to Alvarez, Antioch College alum Coretta Scott King, class of ‘51,  “gifted the use of her name” to the college in 2005, for the establishment of the center. In 2007, former Director Dana Patterson helped chart its current mission.

“Dana Patterson developed an agreement that the Center would be used as an experiential teaching center for issues of race, class, gender, diversity, and social justice for the campus and the surrounding community,” she wrote. “The mission of the Center was born with the intention that it acts to facilitate learning, dialogue, and action to advance social justice.”

Before taking the helm at the Center in January 2022, Alvarez, born and raised in the Bronx, New York, and a 1996 graduate of Antioch with a self-designed degree in education, was senior vice rresident for equity and strategic development and a former member of the Antioch Board of Trustees. She is also the mother of two Mills Lawn Elementary school students.

Alvarez said student and faculty participation along with what she refers to as the three-legged stool of Antioch — the co-op, classroom, and community — comprise the components of the center.

“With the students, my role is evolving. But a big piece of it is making sure that the center is offering students opportunities to think about issues that are important to them, as well as creating their own activities and events, and ways of bringing each other together to talk about topics that maybe don’t come up in the dorm or, maybe do, and they want somebody to help facilitate it,” she said.

Alvarez also plans to partner and build more community networks of engagement, particularly in nearby cities. She hopes these efforts will draw more local students to the college.

“I would like for our programming to be much more connected to some of the grassroots organizing that is being done in Springfield and Dayton. I’m working on that now, getting to know who’s doing social justice work, who’s doing work around prison justice, who’s doing work around economic justice. Being able to build those networks is important to me. I think the other part is how do we tap into pipelines of excellence, so that they attract more Black and Brown folks to Antioch,” Alvarez said.

According to Alvarez, the center offers students space to implement ideas and concepts they may have.

“We offer that connection between thinking about an idea or having an idea and having support mechanisms to help you lift that idea up,” she said. “Because of the center and where it is physically, it allows for there to be an entryway, connective tissue, I would say, between the village, and the students, and the Antioch College community.”

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One Response to “Anchoring the Coretta Scott King Center in Black history”

  1. DC says:

    Please consider other women, local women, that empowered people in the same way. Faith Patterson jumps to mind. She was my kindergarten teacher at Antioch school in the 70s, she was a kind and decent human who taught and exemplified human dignity and unconditional love. Her name may not capture national attention but she represents a success story I can relate to. The race issue today is not the same as it was 50 years ago. The laws are in place and civil rights have been set. The words have been spoken and rules are written clearly. We don’t need more or different laws. We don’t need more protests or more lectures. Now we need leaders, the kind that live among us and with us…like Faith, to show us what these words look like in action. This woman loved me as a child, as a stranger that entered her classroom, and continued to be a mentor and role model years after. I’m sure Corretta King was a great person. My point is that the issues of fairness and kindness cannot be alluded to in name, or branded or advertised. They are honest to god virtues that must be active and alive in good work to be understood and taught. Time to stop appealing to the public, stop trying to change the world and concentrate on yourself and your own backyard.

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