“It is important to be a good listener to people who do not look like you, and who do not have what you have,” she said. “Because when we fight together, we win together… We cannot build on rifts that have never been filled. The way to cross those bridges is not to ignore what happened. It’s to confront it. It’s to be willing to have those hard, awkward talks, meetings, and marches together.”
She acknowledged the current divisions over issues from COVID-19 to the 2021 insurrection at the Capitol are worrisome.
“I know people are worried about where we are going, because some people say that they want to see the world turn back on its tail toward some of its darkest times,” she said. “And I am going to tell you that you are descended from the people who lives through those times, fought and won.”
Many civil rights activists laid down their lives to create change, Kendall said. Most knew they were fighting for a future they knew they would not see, she said, but knew “it was their turn to get into the ring.”
She urged the audience to consider giving just eight hours over the next month or year to their communities.
“See how far it goes to change the world,” Kendall said. “See how many ways you can shift the conversation, shift the dialogue by joining the voices pushing things to be better, as opposed to being one of the people who says, ‘That’s a mess,’ and then looking away.”
Kendall is best known for “Hood Feminism,” her New York Times bestselling collection reflecting on contemporary feminism and its predilection for representing the concerns of only a small portion of feminists. Her speech was a highlight of the hour-long service, which was livestreamed and is available on YouTube.
Other guest speakers at the commemoration included Duke President Vincent Price, Duke University Health System President Dr. A. Eugene Washington and Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal.
The MLK commemoration offers an opportunity to remember King’s contributions to civil rights, as well as a chance to take stock of setbacks and progress as the university works through its Racial Equity Advisory Council to advance racial equity among faculty, staff and students, Price said.
“Since we last gathered in this space, we’ve taken some significant steps toward that goal,” Price said. “At the same time, these are only incremental steps. And along the way, we have been reminded that, as Dr. King put it, ‘Human progress is neither automatic, nor inevitable, but relies on the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.’
“So today, as we mark this important commemoration, I want to thank all of you and every member of the Duke community for your tireless support of these efforts, and to recommit with you to the work of progress toward a Duke that makes us all proud.”