UF holds two weeks of MLK events

Britney Young, 18, and Diaunte Jenkins, 19, of the group United We Dance, dance to a version of “Strange Fruit” sung by Nina Simone at the Martin Luther King Jr. opening ceremony in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom Thursday. The guest speaker at the event was Jeraldine Williams, the first African American woman to graduate from the UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. “I look at all of you: black, white, other, and we laid the foundation for you to be where you are, the way you are today.” Chris Day / Alligator Staff

Jeraldine Williams came to UF 50 years ago to take classes and make history.

She was one of 14 black students to integrate the university in 1963. She was also the first African American to graduate from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

Williams returned to her alma mater to address a new generation of students Thursday as part of UF’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

Williams’ speech kicked off eight other UF events over the next two weeks to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. These events will be co-sponsored by various organizations including the Reitz Programming Board and the Black Graduate Student Organization.

The opening ceremony, attended by 160 people, initiated a conversation about the impact of black history, said PJ Jones, an assistant director of UF Multicultural and Diversity Affairs.

“We wanted to get voices in the room of our heroes and giants who are still alive who can speak to Dr. King’s legacy,” Jones said.

Williams had an ecstatic spirit when she spoke, said Tylah Eady, a 24-year-old African American studies senior.

“She’s a fighter,” Eady said. “She never stopped working toward her education.”

On Wednesday, the Reitz Programming Board and the Black Graduate Student Organization will host a guided conversation with Ron Stallworth, who was the first African American officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department, said Harrison DeVoe, co-director of the films committee for Reitz Programming Board.

His story of investigating the Ku Klux Klan was the subject of the recent Spike Lee film, “BlacKkKlansman,” DeVoe said.

The Reitz Programming Board and the Black Graduate Student Organization are spending $20,100 to bring Stallworth to campus, said DeVoe, a 20-year-old political science sophomore.

The Q&A will cover perception of Stallworth’s story, his take on the police and the process of making the film with Spike Lee and Jordan Peele, said Erin Ferguson, the chair of the event for the Black Graduate Student Organization.

Ferguson, a 23-year-old clinical and health psychology doctoral student, said the event would show the audience the perspective of someone on the ground fighting the system.

“We hope that they are able to take away lessons about today’s climate and draw connections between Ron Stallworth and what he has to say and the legacy of MLK,” Ferguson said.

Correction: The article was updated to reflect that the Black Identity and Continuing Black Movement Activism in Brazil in an Era of Repression lecture will be Jan. 17 at 7:10 p.m. in Grinter 376. The Alligator previously reported differently.

Contact Hannah Beatty at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @hannahbeatty_