We are still living in a time where many of our family members, neighbors, and colleagues were alive when Black and Native American people were not considered full human beings. Even after the 13th and 15th amendments to the Constitution that freed all slaves and granted Black men the right to vote respectively, the Jim Crow era began and created barriers preventing freed slaves from exercising their new rights. While Indigenous peoples were forcibly granted citizenship in 1924, they were not granted the right to vote in every state until 1962. Just coming out of a record-breaking election year, it is important to recognize that being granted rights does not automatically lead to equality amongst its citizens; in fact, systemic racism tends to adapt itself to changes so that rights and privileges continue to be harder for some to access more than others. While voting is not the focus of this year’s theme, it is just one of many examples of how of the history of the United States created, and maintains, the unequal realities that Indigenous and Black people face in this country.

The theme for this year calls upon the Concordia community and beyond to confront and acknowledge the historical ramifications that the genocide and colonization of Native peoples and land and the commodification and enslavement of Black bodies have contributed to modern American society, capitalist economics, and systemic injustices. Many of the textbooks that educated us do not touch on Martin Luther King Jr.’s pursuit later in his life to bring attention to the atrocities faced by all marginalized groups in the United States, beginning with the genocide of Indigenous populations. He truly believed that we cannot achieve racial equality without addressing this nation’s past and the lived experiences of all racial and ethnic minority groups.

We ask that we be intentional in examining 1) the early beginnings of police and its ties to slavery, 2) Christian ministry and work as a guise for genocide and colonization, and 3) the historical toll that Black and Indigenous Peoples have suffered and how theft of land and labor has laid the foundation of American society as we know it.

Martin Luther King Jr. states in his 1963 book "Why We Can’t Wait" that:

"Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shores, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles of racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its Indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it."

This year’s MLK Day Student Planning Committee was also inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that there were three evils that endangered the projection of the Civil Rights Movement: racism, poverty, and war. Thus, we also wanted our theme to hit these targets, some more directly than others. Upon reflecting on the above, the MLK Day Student Planning Committee has selected “Stolen Land, Stolen Labor: Secrets to Success” as the theme for the upcoming 2021 MLK Day.