Dear members of the campus community,
As a learned society, and especially here in our academic community, we are driven by a desire to acquire and share knowledge. When he was a graduate student, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. immersed himself in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Dr. King later noted that as India’s pioneer of nonviolent activism, Gandhi “lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony.” This vision for a better world was powered not only by Gandhi’s thoughts but also by his actions. “The future depends on what you do today,” Gandhi famously said.
Gandhi’s profound influence on Dr. King was evident during Dr. King’s visit to Wake Forest 60 years ago this past October. As I reflected in my MLK Day message last year, Dr. King challenged Wake Foresters to “have faith in the future,” to “believe that there is something at work in the universe to bring about good in society.” These words carry additional meaning for us as a community this year as we think together about the future of Wake Forest, approaching our 200th anniversary in 2034. What does it mean to have faith in the future?
For many of us, optimism for the future has felt more difficult in recent years. From the pandemic and mass shootings to an increase in hate crimes in the U.S. to the war in Ukraine and civil war in northern Ethiopia, our sense of trust and faith in the future has been shaken. It is therefore vital that we reflect on Dr. King’s boundless faith in the future, even in the face of great turmoil and danger. The same is true as we recall the life of Gandhi, who was assassinated 75 years ago this month. How can we — amidst violence and intolerance — cultivate a shared, strong and sustainable belief in our capacity to be catalysts for good in society?
Today, we pause to honor and reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King with a series of events hosted in collaboration with Winston-Salem State University. The day concludes with a keynote address at Wait Chapel (7 p.m.) where we will hear from U.S. women’s soccer legend Briana Scurry. In addition, this Saturday, Jan. 21, we will partner with Winston-Salem State and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, as well as HandsOn NWNC, to host an “MLK Read-In Day.” And later this semester, on March 13, Wake Forest will host Prof. Rajmohan Gandhi, a scholar and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who will reflect on Gandhi’s life and legacy.
In our mission to acquire and share knowledge, it is also true that knowledge without the virtue of courage, without faith in the future, is limited in its impact. As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and his link to Gandhi’s, I ask that we all consider again Dr. King’s exhortation of 60 years ago — to believe in the future, to believe that society can improve, and to believe that our work together must always be in service of a better world; or as our motto calls to us, “for humanity.”
I hope to see you at today’s community events and those later in the semester.
Susan R. Wente, Ph.D.