Below are the remarks as prepared for delivery by President Porterfield and Markera Jones '15 at the 26th Annual Crispus Attucks Community Center Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast on January 20, 2014.
Thank you, Tony. I would like to thank the Crispus Attacks Community Center and its executive director, Cheryl Holland-Jones, for sponsoring this annual gathering. It is great to see so many leaders from the community here, including my friend Mayor Gray, School District of Lancaster superintendent Pedro Rivera, members of the City Council including F&M’s own Barbara Wilson, and countless colleagues from Lancaster’s many great schools, colleges, and universities.
I’d like to thank my colleagues at F&M who made today possible – a cast of thousands who prepared this place and our meal: Stacy Thornwall-Rogers, vice president for strategic initiatives Sam Houser, and Bill Wright, who leads F&M’s choral ensembles.
Let me please draw your attention to Lancaster’s own Mr. Sydney Bridgett, class of 1951, who was the second African American student to enroll at this great college in 1947. Mr. Bridgett, thank you for being here.
As Tony said, two months ago, on December 13th, we marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s only known visit to the City of Lancaster, when he spoke to that crowd of more than 3,000 here on the campus of Franklin & Marshall College.
Speaking at a time when he had suspended peaceful protests against segregation because of the recent assassination of President Kennedy, Dr. King said, America needed “a sort of divine discontent” and a citizenry that would be “creatively maladjusted.” “Education,” Dr. King intoned, “has a tremendous role to play,” because “hearts must be changed…to transform the jangling discords of our nation into the beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Today, those words and others are etched in the American consciousness and have their place alongside the highest ideals of this nation’s founding documents. Dr. King’s teachings exist in perpetual dialogue with those documents, as we strive anew in each era to form our more perfect union and ensure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Today that work takes shape in new ways, amidst new forms of old challenges like segregation, discrimination, economic injustice, environmental degradation, colonialism, and war.
In this context, addressing today’s needs, Franklin & Marshall College takes inspiration from Dr. King’s life and words and is taking bold steps toward the creation, we hope, of a more just and cooperative world.
One way is through who we enroll. I’m proud that our Board of Trustees voted to double financial aid budget several years ago. With that bigger deployment of financial aid and our broadened outreach to students all across the country and the world, we have increased the percent of incoming students from low-income backgrounds from 5 percent to 17 percent three years in a row. We have increased the percent of students receiving need-based financial aid from 37 percent about 5 years ago to 52 percent today. We have increased the international student population from 11 percent to 17 percent. And we have increased the percent who identify as members of the domestic community of color from about 10 percent to 20 percent – a doubling of the community of color in just 5 years.
Here’s the even more important point: The academic strength of Franklin & Marshall College is growing. Our classes are becoming more interesting. Our campus is becoming more dynamic. As a composite, our financial aid students have a higher GPA than the student body as a whole. Our Pell Grant students, who come from the lowest quartile of the American economy – that 17 percent – have a 98 percent retention rate, higher than the student body as whole. Our most recent winners of leading national fellowships – the Truman, the Mitchell, and the Pickering – were all the first in their families to go to college.
These are the kinds of changes that help every single F&M student – all 2,400 – because all now have the advantage of an even stronger academic community and an even more formative community experience that will have lifelong value.
This deepening of the F&M student body has attracted national attention from the media and the federal government. Some hear this news from F&M with shock, as if our early success in finding talented students from the full economic and ethnic mosaic deserves a patent. No. There’s nothing miraculous happening here. This is the race-neutral society Dr. King envisioned where women and men are judged by the content of our character. This is what it looks like at F&M, and is not beyond the reach of America’s top institutions, even though, sadly, just 6 percent of students from lower income communities are presently on the campuses of the top 200 colleges and universities in America. What we are doing here, together as a community, benefits every student and the country – we must insist on that as we engage others and share experiences about how education can create a better and more just world.
And yet, as we recommit to each other today to do this work, we know we have so much ahead of us.
For example, just look to the events last fall at Coatesville High School, located 45 minutes away from here. You probably read the news accounts about how two highly-placed leaders in that school district were found to have regularly sent each other racist text messages mocking in the most vile terms the students and community they were entrusted to serve as educators.
Those two individuals have left their jobs, but there’s still so much work to do at Coatesville High School and in America. Dr. King would tell us to look to Coatesville.
I can think of no better way to do that than to invite to this podium someone whose leadership and success at F&M captures in 2014 the essence of a college bearing the name of two inventors of American democracy – a recent graduate of Coatesville High School, a successor to Sydney Bridgett, now a junior at F&M: Markera Jones.
Markera Jones is joined here today by her sister, Zhané Williams, her grandmother Karen Woodall, and her mother Johndah Hammond.
Let me tell you something about this extraordinary native of Coatesville. Markera has a 3.8 GPA. She’s studying psychology, French, and Arabic. She’s giving back as a mentor in many of our youth programs. In a few days Markera will be boldly venturing beyond our shores for a semester in the South of France. She’s our one of our nominees for a Truman Scholarship this year and we’re encouraging her to go for a Rhodes Scholarship next year.
A graduate of Coatesville High School, which has experienced the trauma I’ve just described.
As we celebrate Dr. King’s life, and recommit to healing a hurting world, I invite a “creatively maladjusted” young woman, someone with “divine discontent” – outstanding F&M student Markera Jones to come to the podium and share her thoughts on the meaning of this day.
Markera, please come forward.
Thank you, everyone, and good morning.
I was not born when the civil rights movement was at its peak, nor did I have to deal with many of the issues head-on, as others did, but I am still reaping the benefits of their mindsets today.
During my high school senior year, every student had to schedule a brief, one-on-one guidance appointment with their counselor to discuss what colleges they’ve applied to and which one they are interested in attending.
I remember my appointment so well.
I walked into my counselor’s office, excited as ever to give my update. “I think I know where I’m going,” I said, enthusiastically. Before I got out my next breath, my counselor said to me, “Wait. Before we start, I just want to show you this school, here.”
And so I sat there, impatiently and confused, as my guidance counselor, who I thought knew my character, my work ethic, my academic history, and my 3.85 GPA, expressed that a school with a low graduation rate and below-average admission standards was his top choice school for me. I was even more uncomfortable when I learned that several other high performing friends of mine experienced the same situation during their appointments.
This is not to bash other colleges or universities, but it made me wonder why the color of my skin spoke more volumes than my personality, my potential, my vision.
I share this with you not to dirty Coatesville High School’s reputation more than it already has been, but to demonstrate just one example of the institutional prejudice that continues to exist in schools all over the country.
I am not the only student who takes pride in her high school, who believes there is no place like Coatesville. And I guarantee I’m not the only student who felt disheartened after her high school gained public representation of the same racial hatred that Dr. King stood so fervently against.
To answer the question, “How would Dr. King respond to the recent crisis at Coatesville High School?” we can simply refer back to some of his greatest thoughts. Like, “Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.” Or when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Or better yet, and perhaps my personal favorite: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
I think we can all agree that Dr. King would want Coatesville to continue to stand as a community, and to encourage our students to peacefully withstand all negativity aimed at their progress. He would want us to strive toward educating our students on the nature of hatred, but also on the nature of harmony – for as King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
And most importantly, he would want us all to realize that we cannot reach our full potential – not I, nor you, nor generations of people to come – until we begin to wholeheartedly support others in reaching theirs.
Choosing Franklin & Marshall College despite what was expected of me was perhaps the best decision of my life. My experience here, with Dr. Porterfield as our president, has not only allowed me to blossom as a person, but it has also taught me the true meaning of education.
In more wise words of Dr. King, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”