Keynote speaker, Raquel Willis, to speak on intersectionality between race and gender at OSU MLK Day celebration

MLK Statue, activists

Morgan Grindy

The nature of a holiday is habitually much more than a day off, a long weekend, or a sprinkle of free-time. Holiday’s are reminder of our values and goals as a community; they’re memorials for the times in which we’ve celebrated life’s foundations, accomplishments, and bounties of progress. Today we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day in acknowledgement of the wildly important civil rights activist, and the legacy of change he inspired from his dream of racial equality. 

Today, Oregon State University will be celebrating MLK day and his legacy for the 38th year, with an event hosted by OSU’s Office of Institutional Diversity named the Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration. This celebration “is the longest running annual event at Oregon State University focused on social justice and transformative change,” according to the website for the event. 

OSU’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration is celebrated throughout the week beginning with a day of service hosted by OSU’s Community Engagement and Leadership, and ends with the Peace Breakfast, Keynote Address, and Peace March on January 20. 

Among the many objectives of the event, learning about and reflecting on Dr. King’s message in a way that is relevant to today’s context is one that led to the decision to invite activist, speaker, and editor of Out magazine, Raquel Willis, to lead the Keynote Address. 

Raquel Willis is an African-American queer transgender activist, “dedicated to inspiring and elevating marginalized individuals, particularly transgender women of color,” according to her biography. She is the editor of Out, an American LGBTQ+ fashion, entertainment, and lifestyle magazine, the most circulated LGBTQ+ monthly publication in the United States. 

Today is not only a time to honor Dr. King’s message and the initiatives his activism sparked, but a day to reflect on what we are doing as individuals and as a university to keep moving forward toward equality on all assembled levels. Brandi Douglas, Assistant Director of Outreach for OSU’s Office of Institutional Diversity, believes that today “is a community effort; it allows us to not only honor the man and what he stood for, but gives us time to reflect on our work as a university.”

A necessary aspect of such reflection and desired improvement toward a community effort, such as racial equality, is the inclusion of diverse perspectives. Willis, being African-American, queer, and transgender, brings a multitude of different perspectives and points of representation to the table, all within her own voice. These aspects of her identity are what mingle together to be a unique and authentic perspective on the presence of Dr. King’s voice in today’s context, and the interconnected nature of social groups defined by race or gender that are marginalized and discriminated against. 

To this point, Willis’ message to OSU will “focus on the multiple intersections of race and gender identity. The keynote will also touch on the roles media, journalism, and activism at play as well,” according to Douglas. 

As journalism and the interaction of the media with marginalized groups play a key role in the nature of each group’s identity in society, Willis will provide an expert perspective on this relationship as well, being an editor and highly involved in the journalism community. 

Willis “will be a great speaker for OSU students, faculty and staff to hear from because she has successfully utilized media, both social and print, as an organizing tool to discuss intersectionality between race and gender identity.”

The additional objectives of the event are to “learn about and reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King and collaboratively envision ways to carry forward his work and participate in an impactful, inclusive and engaging celebration of the life and legacy of Dr. King,” according to the Office of Institutional Diversity. 

Willis was chosen to speak because “we wanted to bring in a speaker who could connect to the objectives of the celebration. As a Black queer transgender activist and writer, Raquel Willis has dedicated her life and work to elevating the lives of transgender women of color and has been impactful in the Movement for Black Lives.”

Willis’ devotion to journalism oriented toward social justice and gender, aside from her editorial position at Out, has involved her writing being featured in several well-known magazines such as Essence, Bitch magazine, VICE, Buzzfeed, Autostraddle, ForHarriet, HuffPost, PRIDE, and Quartz, according to her website. Additionally, In January 2017 Willis was a speaker at the National Women’s March in Washington, D.C., where she “discussed the necessary inclusion of women and people on the margins in social justice movements.” 

Many more accomplishments of Willis’ and the organizations she has founded or been involved in can be found at her website. The website also shares that she is currently working on a memoir about her coming of identity. 

Willis’ address to OSU students, staff, alumni, and community members, along with the proactive work of OSU’s Office of Institutional Diversity, will aid Oregon State’s mission to help support social and cultural progress for students, residents of Oregon, the nation and the world. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” -Martin Luther King Jr. 

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