On Monday, Jan. 27, Cal Poly’s Black Academic Excellence Center hosted the sixth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy event. Attendees heard from student speakers and special guest Hill Harper on the value of remembering the words of King and the ongoing economic and social crises facing marginalized groups across the nation.

Biochemistry graduate Ashley Calloway opened the student testimonial portion of the event.

“The Black Girl Magic that radiates within me is made possible by the courage and compassion of Dr. King and I’ll be forever grateful,” Calloway said. “To believe or to think that there was a point in time when I couldn’t express my feelings freely makes my heart sink.”

Following Calloway was political science sophomore Gracie Babatola, who described the inadequate measures taken to assure equal voting rights and how their reflection on King’s legacy led to their thoughts on contemporary issues.

“54 years after King’s assassination, we still live in a world in which the senate is expected to start the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Babatola said. “Two bills that would expand voting access, make Election Day a national holiday and address systemic inequalities that disproportionately impact the Black community from fully actualizing the right to vote.”

Harper – who has a large resume including seven NAACP image awards for his writing, a role acting as Marcus Andrews in “The Good Doctor” and founding the Manifest Your Destiny non-profit organization – sat down with Cal Poly assistant professor Thanayi Jackson following the student speakers.

Harper and Jackson discussed topics surrounding King’s lasting relevance in modern issues, income disparity across minority groups — and the power of investing in cryptocurrency.

“We are willing to edit out parts of history that describe real change,” Harper said. “Real change comes with jobs. Real change comes with freedom … you can’t be free if the cost of being you is too high.”

Harper asked the audience to recall the full name of King’s “March on Washington,” stating that “Jobs and Freedom” were too often left out when describing the historical event

Harper went on to describe his own endeavors with understanding the wealth gap that exists between Americans, particularly those in historically marginalized communities. He talked about the “three pillars of wealth,” which include institutional ownership of assets, institutional and personal trust and the adoption of a digital monetary network, such as crypto.

“Our traditional monetary system is so systemically racist and institutionally biased and inherently unfair, and it creates a system of poverty purposefully,” Harper said. “How do we solve it? We recreate that on a digital, decentralized platform. Through DeFi, through decentralized exchanges, through DOWs, through cryptocurrency. We can use blockchain technology to actually recreate the exact same type of network-wealth effect that we saw in brick-and-mortar communities.”

For those who aren’t versed in blockchain and companies like Bitcoin, Harper encourages people to invest time in their own financial literacy education.

“I truly believe Dr. King would be a bitcoiner if he was still alive,” Harper said.

Liberal studies junior Keegan O’Sullivan attended the event and “wished that more people could’ve been [there].”

“I feel like I learned so much especially about economics,” O’Sullivan said. “Not being an economics student in any capacity, I felt it was really digestible. I have walk-away things to take home and think about for myself personally and to share with my friends.”

The event closed out with two MLK legacy awards being handed out. The first one, which was awarded for the first time ever to a student, was given to Chloe Wardrick, the current president of Cal Poly’s Black Student Union. The second one, the faculty and staff award, was given to psychology professor Amber Williams, for her exhaustive efforts in volunteer work, even during quarantine.

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