Campus & Community

Simmons Welcomes Civil Rights Activist Shaun King to Campus

King discussed current affairs and the state of humanity during his Community Keynote.

"In the grand scheme of human history, are we the peak of humanity?"

Throughout his Community Keynote on November 13, Shaun King continuously posed this question to attendees. A modern civil rights activist, King is known for his efforts in the Black Lives Matter movement and is currently a columnist for The Intercept and a writer-in-residence for the Fair Punishment Project

Jumping headfirst into the discussion, King began by imploring the audience to take an honest look into the current state of human affairs, both in the U.S. and the world. 

"We are living in a deeply disturbing time," explained King. Increasingly frequent mass shootings, occurrences of police brutality, the rise of white supremacy, the demonization of immigrants — it's impossible to keep track of every calamity when they occur at an alarming rate. 

In order to survive the bleak news cycle, we've learned how to pivot our attention elsewhere. King admitted that he also operated in this way — until he hit a breaking point. During a typical work day in the summer of 2014, King watched the video of Eric Garner's death. 

"I can't explain what happened, but I struggled to complete the rest of my day," said King. "I decided that I needed to find out more about this man and tell his story. I thought that if I shared that video, maybe we could contextualize this tragedy."

Demanding justice for Eric Garner eventually expanded to include John Crawford, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice — the beginnings of the Black Lives Matter movement. Unfortunately the justice he fought for never came, and since 2014 the list of injustices has only grown longer. 

King paints a bleak but honest portrayal of humanity — admitting that he'd like to spread a message of hope rather than a list of endless tragedy. But he does this for a reason: to help us understand our place in the grand scheme of human history. 

I believe in you and I'm excited to see what’s ahead of each of you. It's going to be hard to move forward, but I feel good about the direction we’re going in.

"Unlike technology, humanity does not get better and better," explained King. "We like to think that we have evolved upwardly, but are we really the peak of humanity? Depending on where you think we are in history effects the decisions you make."

According to King, it's extremely easy to fall into these dips in humanity — and incredibly challenging to dig ourselves out. In order to overcome slavery there was the Civil War. In order to overcome Jim Crowe we had the Civil Rights Movement. What will it take this time?

Even though it feels like we've hit rock bottom, King is still hopeful for our future. Although the quality of humanity isn't continuously on the rise, there is no dip that we didn't overcome. 

"I have hope because we're starting to understand the radical effort it will take to shift the direction of our country," said King. 

As an example, King listed the strides made in the midterm elections. From a historic turnout of voters, to a more diverse representation of Americans in Congress, these are significant changes.

King ended his message with his hopes for the Simmons students in the audience. Wishing them successful college careers and encouraging them to learn as much as possible while they're here. 

"I believe in you and I'm excited to see what’s ahead of each of you," concluded King. "It's going to be hard to move forward, but I feel good about the direction we’re going in."

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