Northeastern celebrates life, legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A panel discussion with Northeastern alumni, from left, Jameson Johnson, Cassie Harris, Jarid Turner and Camille Martin was moderated by Richard Harris (center) during the “A Tribute to the Dream” celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy held at Northeastern’s East Village on Jan. 12, 2023. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Cheryl Daniel grew up in Oklahoma City, a place with deep ties to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King preached at Calvary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City in 1953 at 24 years old and also delivered a speech to about 1,500 people during a Freedom Rally there on July 29, 1960.

“Dr. King paved the way for the next generation of Oklahomans, Americans and people across the globe to aspire to create a world filled with equitable dreams and possibilities,” said Daniel, a Northeastern graduate student from the Class of 2023 in the College of Arts, Media and Design and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Graduate Fellow. 

Daniel hosted Northeastern’s “A Tribute to the Dream” celebration honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. held at East Village on the Boston campus Thursday afternoon.    

A panel of alumni, led by Richard Harris, associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, director of the multicultural engineering program and member of the faculty in the department of Africana studies, discussed King’s vision of education and the importance of morals and values in producing a person’s character and the leadership that is needed to move the United States forward as a nation and as a people.

“Dr. King had a dream. But that dream has not become a reality, because we’ve not yet learned how to love our brothers and sisters, as we love ourselves,” Harris said.

He asked the panelists to consider how their own experience from their time at Northeastern and beyond correlated with the King’s dream and his understanding of the purpose of education.

Cassie Harris, who graduated from CAMD in 2015 and is now a marketing manager and creative strategist at Coca Cola, said that she always wanted to be in marketing and be a storyteller for big businesses but she went through an identity crisis. Her thoughts about Black liberation, freedom and doing something meaningful were clashing with “the scary themes of capitalism and climbing the corporate ladder,” Harris said.

But she realized that corporations could act as enablers for people like her by getting them into important rooms and important conversations. Harris was able to reclaim her dream at Northeastern and identify where she could apply her character in the corporate world.

“We actually need those people in boardrooms, we need those people across committees. That is really what propels me,” she said.  

Camille Martin, who received her doctoral degree in chemistry from Northeastern in 2019 and founded her own company, Seaspire Skincare, a month later, said that being a part of the first Northeastern National Science Foundation Innovation Core Program allowed her to see how lab innovations make it to the store shelf and to realize that she could go into business herself.

She took advantage of the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem at Northeastern, from the School of Business and School of Law, learning about marketing, licensing and venture capital investments, to the Innovation Center and the research lab. 

“So I can say this dream that Dr. King had for being able to really fully invest in education is something that I realized was so important early on in my life, and I was happy to explore further at Northeastern,” Martin said.

Now, she is able to share her experience through hosting Northeastern students on co-ops at her company, which she thinks illustrates that the King’s dream is enduring, Martin said.

Other panelists were Jarid Turner, Class 2015 graduate of the College of Engineering and director of Indoor AG Technology, an indoor cannabis growing business, and Jameson Johnson, Class of 2019 graduate of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and founder and editor-in-chief of bi-annual Boston Art Review magazine. 

The event also featured a special guest, Sophia Abena Boafa Akuffo, former chief justice of Ghana, who discussed remotely with Vanessa Johnson, Northeastern’s associate professor in the department of applied psychology and former director of the college student development and counseling program, the impact King had on human rights in countries around the world.

King was reassured in his approach of non-violent resistance, seeing how Ghana became the first country in Africa to gain its independence from the British Empire in 1957, Akuffo said. While Ghana continued to lead the liberation of Africa and started lifting other colonies, King was able to establish a relationship with India and influence African and Asian delegates in the United Nations to push for the adoption of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

That led to advocacy against other forms of discrimination against women, disabled, people’s age and recognition of all these rights, Akuffo said.

“For me, this is where the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work continues,” she said. “Every right-thinking person across the world saw the core of his message, which is that it is not right to discriminate against anybody on the basis of things that they are born with.” 

President Joseph Aoun, who was traveling on university business Thursday and couldn’t attend the event in person, said in a video message that he, too, believed that King’s message was never confined to the U.S. When he was a boy, growing up in Lebanon, Aoun said, he heard King’s speeches on the radio and King’s ideas delivered in a forceful, signature way resonated with him. 

“Dr. King made us realize that our world could be more peaceful, just and inclusive,” Aoun said. 

He called on everyone in the audience to reaffirm the commitment to King’s enduring global message and strive to overcome any obstacles together, united by shared values.

“A truly fulfilling life comes when one lives values, such as justice, respect, and inclusion,” he said.

The program included two beautiful vocal performances by Damian Lee, a Northeastern student of the Class of 2023 majoring in political science and economics with minors in Africana studies and global social entrepreneurship, who received a storm of applause for singing “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone and “The Impossible Dream” from the 1965 Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha.”

The event also recognized this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Graduate Fellows. The  program is administered by John D. O’Bryant African American Institute and recruits students who have a set of life experiences, including community service, that is reflective of MLK’s ideals and vision for the society. The program supports increasing the enrollment of underrepresented populations in Northeastern’s graduate programs, and the work of the Fellows is deeply connected to King’s legacy, Daniel said.

 Alena Kuzub is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AlenaKuzub.