“The Audacity of a Leader”: Hollins Honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Diversity and Inclusivity, Special Events

January 17, 2023


Members of the Hollins community embraced the theme of “Community, Justice, and Activism” during the university’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16.

Students, faculty, and staff engaged in a morning of conversation that, according to President Mary Dana Hinton, “facilitated and enhanced our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”

In her welcome, Hinton praised the campus community for cherishing that promise. “Now, that is not to say that we are doing the work perfectly. We are imperfect and incomplete in our efforts. But we get up and we do the work each day, not just on major occasions, and I believe that sets us apart as a university, along with the sense of love that permeates our community. I believe it’s that sense of love that has particular meaning on this day, and particular relevance to the topic of community, justice, and activism.”

Hinton emphasized that Hollins “will take a more arduous road, a longer road, and a road we must tread in community with one another, but it’s a road that will move us, individually and collectively, to a new and better place.”

Sabrina Dent, D.Min., president of the Center for Faith, Justice, and Reconciliation, delivered the program’s keynote address. Based in Richmond, Virginia, the Center is an independent, nonprofit organization and theological think tank dedicated to building a beloved community in Virginia and beyond.

Citing King’s example, Dent focused on “the audacity of a leader” and how that characteristic remains as relevant today as it did during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. She quoted Coretta Scott King’s foreword from her husband’s 1967 book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?: “He not only took the responsibility for leadership, he toiled vigorously to offer discerning leadership.”

Dent noted that King practiced discerning leadership in a number of ways. “He took the time to travel to the communities that were the most marginalized and impacted by the public policies that continued to disenfranchise Black people in the South. He listened to the stories of the people as a strategy to develop his plans to move forward to support the community. Furthermore, he used wisdom – his knowledge, experience, and good judgment – to make decisions.”

King, Dent continued, “teaches us that leadership requires that we do the difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes thankless work to help others in need or to save lives. This requires that we acknowledge the pain of those who are suffering and that we work toward addressing the issues that caused that pain.”

The courage to draw attention racism, bigotry, and prejudice is a core component of a leader’s audacity, Dent said. “One must be willing to be call out what they see as a truth teller. King was clear in stating in his book, ‘Like life, racial understanding is not something that we find, but something we create. A productive and happy life is not something that you find, it is something that you make.’” She added that “diversity of voice, identity, and experience are critical in addressing issues of racial justice, religious freedom, and human rights. Yet, at the same time, the unspoken hierarchy of white privilege and supremacy is ever present in how we operate in society and even create public policies that impact communities. This has, and will continue to have, implications for many groups if people of goodwill and faith fail to take action, to humanize the true essence of freedom for all people.”

Dent identified other qualities of an audacious leader:

  • Understanding history (“We must be willing to teach and acknowledge the truth about all of American history. If we don’t, the lessons of history are doomed to repeat themselves.”)
  • Protecting the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (“The First Amendment guarantees human rights for all people.”)
  • Serving as an ally (“One who is intentionally choosing to align themselves with the issues and concerns of the very individuals they claim are their community.”)

Significantly, she added, “It requires that we reimagine our role in doing this work, that we reimagine our advocacy and engagement, that we get involved. The dream of religious freedom, building community, advancing justice, and pursuing activism is one that causes us to be disciplined and united. It is in our pursuit of dignity, justice, and reconciliation that we must take a look at ourselves and the honest stories we’ve seen unfold in history and think about our responsibility in addressing them.”

Dent concluded, “I want us to remember and honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose commitment to the beloved community was unwavering. But most importantly, I want us to commit ourselves to finding and exercising the audacity to lead in our various contexts by being courageous truth tellers, activists, students, and engaged citizens who are committed to building a better and brighter world for our children, now and in the future.”

Following the keynote address, participants in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event could attend the concurrent resource sessions “Antisemitism,” “Resistance in Art,” or “BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] Identity and Resistance.” Hollins’ celebration was sponsored by the Darci Ellis Godhard Fund.