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MLK celebration encourages ‘uncomfortable conversations’

Closeup of Emmanuel Acho.
Emmanuel Acho

Fox Sports analyst and bestselling author Emmanuel Acho will urge Cougs to engage in uncomfortable conversations around race during his keynote address for Washington State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration on Feb. 2.

Acho’s speech is one of many events and activities planned during the next several months to celebrate MLK’s birthday. Visit the MLK website for an up-to-date listing of events, dates, and registration information.

Allen Sutton, executive director for the Office of Social Justice Education and Outreach in the Division of Student Affairs, said the MLK Program serves as the foundation for all of WSU’s work in equity and inclusion.

“Our efforts are rooted in utilizing Dr. King’s dream and vision to empower a new generation of powerful, positive social change-makers,” Sutton said.

Removing barriers to ‘uncomfortable conversations’

Acho will have a clear message for WSU change agents during his speech – the importance of acknowledging white privilege, understanding that true equity makes society stronger, and learning what it means to be an authentic ally.

Acho, an Emmy Award-winning sports analyst who is co-host of FS1’s Speak for Yourself, will draw much of the content for his WSU message from his web video series called “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.” The series stems from a book of the same name he wrote in partnership with Oprah Winfrey that debuted in 2020 at #3 on the New York Times best sellers list.

On Thursday, Jan. 20, faculty, staff, and students across the WSU system can view a recording of Acho’s “Uncomfortable Conversation” with comedian and author Chelsea Handler. Other showings include Acho’s conversations with Olympic gold medalist Lindsey Vonn on Jan. 25, five-time Grammy Award winner Lil Wayne on Jan. 26, members of the Petaluma, Calif., Police Department on Jan. 31. The conversation topics include cancel culture, biracial dating, mental health, Black Lives Matter, and defunding the police. Each session will be led by a WSU moderator and include time for discussion.

“I want to remove the barriers for why we’ve never had these conversations,” Acho wrote on his website. “I want to provide a free space for curious white people to answer the questions they’ve always had but have been too nervous to ask.”

Service project goes systemwide

Other MLK Program events this month include a system-wide Caring Cougar Cards service project on Jan. 18 and anti-racism training led by WSU alumna Xyanthe Neider, director for teaching and learning at Whatcom Community College, on Jan. 28.

Andria Donnenwerth, a student involvement manager for the Global Campus who is leading the Caring Cougar Cards project, said each campus has identified a community partner such as a teen outreach program, an adult care facility, or hospital that will receive the cards. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni will gather on each WSU campus on Jan. 18 at 12:30 p.m. to create handmade cards. Global students will participate virtually.

“This is the first time we’ve created a synchronized service project at each of our locations,” Donnenwerth said. “I’m super excited about it.”

Donnenwerth is also planning a series of virtual game nights for faculty, staff, students, and alumni. She said the games were a big hit during last year’s MLK Program and allow participants to learn about Black history and culture in a fun and relaxing way.

Nominate a Coug for a Spirit Award

The MLK Celebration Planning Committee is accepting nominations for its Spirit Awards through Friday, Jan. 14. 

There are five award categories, two of which are new. The Elson and Carmento Floyd & William and Felicia Gaskins Social Justice Advocate of the Year Award will recognize an individual or group that has excelled in the work of equity, inclusion, and social justice at the interpersonal, unit, or institutional level. The Power Award will recognize two WSU athletes, athletic alumni, or athletic department staff who have been advocates for equity, inclusion, and justice.

“This award highlights the word ‘power’ because the influence and impact the recipients have had on our legacy in WSU Athletics is very powerful,” said Shelby McKay, associate athletic director. “Their achievements helped get us to where we are today.”

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