On Jan. 16, a group of North Carolina State University scholars gathered for a keynote panel titled, “Persistence: A Roadmap to Equity, Freedom, and Justice” for Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration week.

Dr. King’s words, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle” is a guiding compass for the future of equity, freedom and justice. During King’s 1966 visit to Reynolds Coliseum at NC State, he delivered a powerful speech that roused the Ku Klux Klan into a march of 1,800 people. This discovery was made by one of the panelists Dr. Miller through his research initiatives.

The theme of persistence set the tone for the discussion in the pursuit of equity, freedom and justice. The panelists included: Dr. W. Jason Miller, a distinguished professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Dr. Keon McGuire, an Associate Professor of Higher Education Opportunity, Equity, and Justice in the College of Education. Dr. DeLeon Gray, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Equity in the College of Education and Chazzlyn Jackson, a Ph.D. student studying Sociology in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

This esteemed panel brought a multidisciplinary perspective to the table. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Jameco McKenzie, Director of Multicultural Student Affairs in the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity. Dr. McKenzie presented a series of questions to the panelists to dive deeper into their personal experiences regarding the theme of persistence in the pursuit of equity, freedom and justice.

Dr. Gray emphasized the significance of equity, speaking on the pivotal role played by professors who left a lasting impact on him. These mentors refused to let him falter, going above and beyond to guarantee the success of every student, including those seemingly disengaged or facing their most challenging moments. He draws inspiration from those who dedicate themselves to the betterment of the community, rather than the individual.

When growing up, Dr. McGuire noticed how freedom was discussed in a spiritual and religious context, but rarely a political one. From early on, he noticed how systems of justice in the U.S. would not be readily available for support. He said, “resources that we have or fundamentally belong to us, we have to share them with those who may not have the same access to those resources.” Dr. McGuire describes freedom as living in a way that is not moved by fear. Instead, it is a belief in self, humanity and a greater collective possibility. Quoting Nina Simone, he said, “Freedom is the absence of fear.”

Dr. Miller depicts justice as an evolving roadmap, constantly marked as “under construction.” Initiating his discourse as a white scholar and researcher on these issues, he said, “I only deserve to be heard because I’ve listened first.” Acknowledging his privilege within the spaces he navigates, he observed areas in need of improvement. Dr. Miller advocates altering the narrative by actively participating in the pursuit of equity, freedom and justice through transformative curriculum adjustments.

Dr. Miller proposed a comprehensive three-year plan to revise the curriculum in the Department of English. The revision moves beyond the exclusive focus on renowned authors such as Whitman, Thoreau and Shakespeare, expanding to include the diverse perspectives of Morrison, Brooks, Baldwin and Hughes. Dr. Miller seeks to reshape the foundational structure of education.

The panelists explored the concept of “the personal is political,” weaving their own experiences into the fabric of the struggle. Dr. McGuire explored a new approach to raising a child and a man with softness and intuitive listening that he did not experience. Dr. Chazzlyn emphasized the importance of student involvement in decision-making processes. Dr. Gray emphasized the importance of a patient hustle, acknowledging that timing is crucial.

Looking towards the future, the panelists urged surrounding oneself with inspirational figures, maintaining radical self-care and permitting ourselves to dream. Acknowledging Ella Baker’s words, “The struggle is eternal, somebody else carries on.”

While our roadmap is still in progress, these multidisciplinary scholars are dedicated to advancing equity, freedom and justice, both on this panel and in their daily lives.