Alumna returns to give keynote address for MLK Jr. Day

Allegheny alumna Carmen Ellington, ’86, brought knowledge of her current work in nonprofit organizations and assisting underrepresented groups as well as her experiences as an Allegheny student to her Keynote address on Monday for Martin Luther King Day.

Students, faculty, and community members came together to engage in celebration and hope for a better future during her speech as well as the other 24 events throughout the weekend.

Ellington said she was pleased with the weekend as a whole and hopes this celebration will continue in the future.

“I think that it is awesome that the community as a whole turned this into a whole weekend,” Ellington said.

She said she hopes the events will continue in the future and she wished she could have been on campus longer.

“I hope that this is not the last of it and I hope that people see that this is a good thing,” Ellington said. “I hope that what the college will do that the people who choose not to come to the sessions will go find some way to be active in the community and to give back.”

Clay Grego, ’15, said he thought the workshops facilitated meaningful conversations surrounding Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The workshops were incredible,” said Grego. “The facilitators were dedicated…I was blown away by people’s insight and the parts of King’s legacy and the parts where King didn’t tread, but left room for other people to maybe explore.”

Grego said he really appreciated the discussions being led by people he knew.

“I was just really motivated to know that those [workshops] were led by my faculty, my peers. It was great,” Grego said.

Samantha Wanko, ’15, said she enjoyed the speech particularly because Ellington is an alumna.

“I think it had a better connection because it was someone who came here,” Wanko said. “I thought it had a better touch rather than a stranger.”

Grego said it was good to see an alumnae delivering the address, rather than an academic scholar reciting work.

“She’s really just a person from a grassroots network, a nonprofit from Pittsburgh where she’s had the experience working with underrepresented groups on a regular basis,” Grego said.

He said he thought Ellington’s work gave value to her speech.

“It’s really nice to know that we had someone at the college representing work that I think is important to build community.”

Ellington’s speech reflected Martin Luther King Jr.’s work and applied it to Allegheny.

“Dr. King knew that no matter where we come from, what our origins are, no matter what race we are, what ethnicity we are, what religion we are, that each one of us is a person of value and that we have something important to contribute to society,” Ellington said.

Grego said he noticed Ellington combined her work experience with Martin Luther King’s work in the speech.

“She used her experience to really echo Martin Luther King’s conversation on peace and the necessity to go the extra mile for your neighbor,” Grego said.

He said he enjoyed her direct address to the audience.

“I remember she asked us to look around the space and see everyone that was around us and she said, ‘Think not about yourself. It’s not about you. What can you do for them?’ and I think that goes very hand in hand with what Martin Luther King has always preached.”

Ellington said Allegheny is a good place for these types of conversations.

“On a campus level, Allegheny is such a unique place because literally people come from the four corners of the globe to go to school here,” she said. “There has to be something about this place that would bring people from every walk of life to come to school here. And we have to recognize that because we are such a special and unique place that we have to respect those differences and learn how to cultivate the best in the people around us so we make this an even better community.”

Wanko also said she noticed this positivity in Allegheny’s community of addressing diversity.

“What she said about Barack Obama is that he was judged on his character and not on his skin, so hopefully everyone will continue to do that because I think Allegheny is good about that,” Wanko said.

While Ellington’s speech may have been a step in the right direction for some, Grego said he feels Allegheny needs a bigger change.

“Ultimately the event I think was a waste of people’s time and you may quote me on that,” Grego said.

He said he had spoken with various students who had also attended the event and felt similarly.

“I’ve heard of people leaving the chapel because they agreed right from the moment that she started preaching from Martin Luther King’s texts. They heard her just reechoing the sentiments of King and not challenging anything. And they left. I didn’t have that privilege; I chose to sit in the very front because I was really excited, and my hopes were let down.”

Wanko said she thought the theme of helping others was important for the audience to hear.

“I like how she said it’s not just about us,” Wanko said. “But it’s understanding the people around you and making the effort to learn from them. I really like that she’s like, ‘Don’t be selfish. It’s not about you.’ You have to take advantage of [getting to know] the people in your life.”

Grego said he while he enjoyed this aspect of the talk, the speech as a whole fell short of what he had hoped.

“It didn’t go as far as I would’ve liked it to,” he said. “This is to say, I feel like you can preach peace and justice wherever you go and people will agree with you. […] No one’s ever going to advocate this idea of destruction and intentional pain causing in the idea of building community. But I was upset that she hadn’t gone so far as to really comprehensively review all of Martin Luther King’s work.”

While Ellington’s speech reflected the outcomes King hoped for, she didn’t provide any ideas of how to get there, Grego said.

“She just talked about the idea of coming together, but she had left us with little instructions on how to come together and I think that was disappointing,” he said.

Grego said he had hoped Ellington would provide the audience with guidelines for moving forward.

“Martin Luther King offered very clear instructions, but I wanted to hear her reinterpret those in a more contemporary voice, because I think that’s why the school brought her to us.”

Grego said he thought Ellington’s speech reflected basic beliefs and values people already understood.

“I just heard the same thing that I heard in middle school,” Grego said. “It’s easy to talk about Martin Luther King. You read a passage, you talk about how important it is to treat others with respect, and you’ve got yourself a keynote address. That’s what it was. It wasn’t anything extraordinary. It was, I think, energizing for people who haven’t really reached out to Martin Luther’s texts in a while.”