Capital University in Columbus presented its 20th annual Martin Luther King Day of Learning on Jan. 17. The event featured a keynote address by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario, interactive workshops that challenged participants to examine their own prejudices, a jazz luncheon with live performances by local artists, an exhibit of Haitian art and a screening of the documentary “9500 Liberty,” which explores the issue of immigration.
By CHRIS BOURNEA
Columbus OH -- Capital University in Columbus presented its 20th annual Martin Luther King Day of Learning on Jan. 17. The event featured a keynote address by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario, interactive workshops that challenged participants to examine their own prejudices, a jazz luncheon with live performances by local artists, an exhibit of Haitian art and a screening of the documentary “9500 Liberty,” which explores the issue of immigration.
“The Day of Learning was designed to explore the complex issues that society faces through study, through candid conversation,” said Capital University President Dr. Denvy A. Bowman during the opening convocation at Mees Hall on the campus in the east Columbus suburb of Bexley.
The convocation also featured musical selections by the Capital University Chapel Choir, which performed South African hymns. “The songs of South Africa have special meaning to the choir because they’ll be traveling to South Africa on a concert tour,” choir director Lynda Hasseler told the audience.
In her keynote address, Nazario described how she came to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Enrique’s Journey.” The book describes a Honduran boy’s perilous journey north to find his mother, who had come to work in the United States. While working in the U.S., Enrique’s mother sent money home so that Enrique could eat better and go to school beyond the third grade.
Nazario said the desire for immigrants to find a better life in the United States is similar to the journey that millions of African Americans took during the Great Migration of the 20th century. Just as African Americans left the segregated South to find opportunity in the North, many Latin Americans are leaving their native countries to do the same.
“Like Enrique’s mother, many Black women left children behind to leave the South and come here,” Nazario said.
She also pointed out, however, that immigration has become a divisive issue, causing U.S.-born minorities and foreign-born immigrants to compete for jobs that are increasingly scarce.
“The people most hurt (by immigration) are African Americans and previous waves of Latin immigrants,” Nazario said.
The problems that have arisen from immigration, she added, will only be solved by people of different races working together. She noted that before his death, Dr. King had turned his attention to helping poor people of all races and met with renowned Mexican American labor leader Cesar Chavez.
“To bring about changes to immigration will require cooperation between Whites, African Americans and Latinos,” Nazario said.
From her interviews with Enrique and dozens of other immigrants, Nazario concluded that the solution to immigration will require attacking the problem at its source. Nazario said the United States should work with the governments of Honduras and other countries to improve life for their residents.
“Most (immigrants) I’ve talked to say it wouldn’t take radical changes to get them to stay” in their native countries, Nazario said. “If they could feed their children, they would stay.”
Simple, common-sense solutions include establishing micro-loan programs so that poor residents can set up their own businesses that will enable them to support themselves and their families.
Enacting policies such as these will require cooperation and compromise by people on both sides of the immigration issue, Nazario said.
“United, Americans can bring about change,” she said. “Divided, we’ll have more of the same.”