by L.V. Hissem
On Jan. 22 WVU Parkersburg had the honor of welcoming Mrs. Adrienne Belafonte-Biesemeyer as a guest speaker in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The event started off with a rather unexpected surprise as Senator Joe Manchin arrived to give an opening speech about what life was like during the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Manchin spoke of Dr. King stating that “We need a Martin Luther King today.” Given the current climate in society, Manchin felt that “he would not allow violence to enter in.” Manchin then ended his speech with his favorite quote from Dr. King: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
After an introduction from President Gilmer, Mrs. Biesemeyer took the floor and began her presentation by telling the audience a little about herself, including that she arrived in West Virginia in 1968, and is a graduate of West Virginia State University. Mrs. Biesemeyer also spoke of her first ever trips to Haiti in 1958 and Kenya in 1963, the latter of which she went to celebrate Kenya’s independence from Britain.
During her speech Mrs. Biesemeyer brought up topics that ranged from racism, how it came to be, how we as a society can combat it, how the Civil Rights movement affected it, and a few stories about her father and Dr. King.
One such story that she shared took place when she was 14 years old. Mrs. Biesemeyer was seated in-between her step-mother and Jesse Jackson’s wife across from her father, Harry Belafonte, Jesse Jackson and Dr. King himself. They were all in a limousine in Chicago heading to a protest, and the men were strategizing while the ladies stayed out of the conversation.
“I just wanted to get out of the car.” Needless to say, she laughs about it now.
When discussing racism Mrs. Biesemeyer said, “Race justified social inequalities” and explained that “racism is hate, and hate is not innate, it is taught”.
When asked what she would like for everyone to remember from her presentation Mrs. Biesemeyer said that she hoped that people would take away that “color blindness will not end racism.” When people state that they do not see color then they are ignoring a culture and a part of what makes a person exactly that, a person.
Mrs. Biesemeyer stated that the best way to combat “color blindness” is to “realise you don’t get it, but have the drive and desire to get it.”
Mrs. Biesemeyer continued by saying that we should use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a day to learn about his teachings rather than a day off from work or school, and that we should use it as a day to truly contribute to his legacy as well as spread knowledge and share compassion towards each other.
She said, “Make sure you’re not missing opportunities for listening, learning, and understanding.” Mrs. Biesemeyer concluded her speech by saying “I applaud WVUP for allowing me to come here and be dangerous.”
She was met with a standing ovation and everyone left the auditorium, as President Gilmer intended in his closing speech, “in peace and love.”