‘The Business of Justice’ — Bentley Holds Campus-Wide MLK Day Celebration
This January saw a new tradition for the university as classes were put on hold for a day to allow the entire Bentley community to come together to celebrate and honor the work of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The MLK Day of Social Justice, Celebration, Listening and Learning, held on January 30, featured more than 50 innovative learning sessions presented by students, faculty, staff and alumni. The daylong program — this year themed “The Business of Justice” — featured the 38th-annual MLK Celebration Breakfast, a long-standing and beloved event sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the MLK Committee.
The energy in the Executive Dining Room in LaCava was palpable amid the sound of warm greetings and spirited conversations as more than 400 people gathered for the morning celebration, which included breakfast and a dynamic musical performance by Athene Wilson.
Student emcee Nyleah Febles ’24 welcomed guests to the program, intended to be held annually following this inaugural event. “This is a historic shift in Bentley’s approach to DEI and how we highlight our communities on campus,” Febles said.
She began her reflection discussing how accessing resources helped her transition to college. “It was a culture shock being surrounded by so many people who didn’t look like me ... Then I found my community through programs like MOSAIC and Peer2Peer as well as other events hosted by the cultural organizations here on campus. We would spend our time in the Multicultural Center lounge debating, making fun of each other, educating each other and even having conversations on the change we need to make on this campus to create a more supportive inclusive environment for students like us. This community and being at Bentley has broadened my horizons and expanded my ability to dream big.”
Her reflection was followed by an invocation by Jacob Go ’24 and a welcome by President E. LaBrent Chrite, who applauded students for sharing their “brave, bold and beautiful” stories.
Referring to Dr. King as a justice warrior, he said, “For me, reflecting on Dr. King offers a means of sense-making, of reconciliation, if not a complete reckoning of past, present and future — and of our obligation to improve the world around us as manifestations of our own outrage.”
Chrite shared his goal for participants at the daylong program: “We will, through our own individual measures, commit to critically reflecting on our collective stewardship of Dr. King’s legacy — to take account and to be accountable for our nation’s ability to, as yet, fulfill its highest aspirations.”
After reflections by students Tajae Edwards MBA ’24 and Jonathan Francois ’24, keynote speaker Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack, faculty director of the Newbury Center and associate professor at Boston University, took the stage.
Sharing his personal story of coming from a disadvantaged community to attending an elite private college, Jack emphasized the need for higher education leaders to understand that access does not equal inclusion, explaining that “citizenship is so much more than just being in a place; it’s about accessing all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto.”
Jack cited his research on the differences between the “privileged poor” who are from low-income areas but enter college from an elite boarding or high school and the “doubly disadvantaged” peers from similar low-income areas but who attended local public schools. Based on those kinds of individual experiences, he emphasized the need for higher education leaders to focus on how structural inequalities like segregation and poverty dictate how students navigate college life.
“We must understand where students come from and what they have been through, to understand why they chart the paths they do once they reach the college gates,” Jack said. “To ignore the rich diversity among first-generation college students is then to base policy on only a partial picture. As it stands now, our understanding on how poverty and inequality, class and culture, shape campus life remains incomplete.”
Jack shared an impactful message to students: “Your college is, while you are here and long after, your home. You are its citizenry … Dare to demand as much of Bentley as it demands of you … Be unapologetic, be bold, be you.”
Before the morning breakfast program closed, students Judaea Whittingham ’24 and Tyler Staggs-Burgess ’24 shared reflections and then announced the winners of the Dr. Earl L. Avery MLK Leadership Award: Assistant Professor of Management Dr. Mateo Cruz and Associate Director of Financial Assistance Nivia Mogan ’99. Noted as “a force for change” on campus, Cruz was honored for his work on intersectional DEI and justice and for his humility, vulnerability and bravery in sharing his own story to build a safe space for students and encourage openness. An early member of the Diversity Council (now Inclusive Excellence Council), Mogan was praised for helping students behind the scenes as they navigated the financial aid process and for her broader passion to build multicultural and global inclusion on campus.
BRAVE CONVERSATIONS, INCLUSIVE TEACHING, RACIAL HEALING
Following the breakfast celebration, participants headed to programs across campus that included a screening of the award-winning documentary “I am Not Your Negro” and interactive learning sessions on topics including environmental racism, valuing people in business, race and bias in data analytics, Black entrepreneurship and Black art, music and fashion culture. Select sessions were offered virtually for those unable to attend in person.
Bentley Trustee Lebone C. Moses ’02, founder and CEO of Chisara Ventures and founding GP of GIV Capital Fund, joined President Chrite for a fireside talk on wealth-building strategy during their session Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA). Currently a relatively little-known form of entrepreneurship, ETA involves finding and buying already profitable small businesses.
“The first thing is to educate yourself on the opportunity,” Moses said, explaining that ETA is primarily known in exclusively wealthy circles with few professionals of color. “Getting an incredible business education is what makes you highly qualified for this opportunity.”
When Chrite asked what the theme of the day meant to her, Moses replied: “Using the power and influence you have in business to create opportunities for others.”
Marketing Professor Isaura Beltre ’99, MSIAM ’02, associate director of the FirstGen Presidential Fellows Program, led a panel of students who shared their takeaways from attending the 2023 ADCOLOR conference in Los Angeles, California. ADCOLOR President and Bentley Trustee Tiffany R. Warren ’97 founded ADCOLOR in 2005 to celebrate and advocate diversity in the creative industries.
RELATED: Jaychele Nicole Schenck ’26 reflects on ADCOLOR conference
During another program, Assistant Professor of Energy Zana Cranmer and Assistant Professor of Mathematical Sciences Eddie Kim were among faculty who presented on intersectionality in data analysis. Cranmer highlighted opportunities related to the energy system to reimagine infrastructure, including “how we build it and who we include in that process.” Kim noted issues “that sit at the intersection of big data methods and human data related to education policy” and called for researchers “to use intersectionality to rebalance technical versus thoughtful.”
A group of student directors from the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center (BSLCE) — along with BSLCE staff Samantha Eddy, associate director of academic programs, and Brian Shea ’14, senior associate director — presented Charity versus Social Justice.
“Our goal was for folks to reflect on how to create sustainable, impactful partnerships versus engaging in white saviorism,” Eddy says of the session. “We particularly wanted to hold a space where we, as a business school, can consider the privilege we bring to this work and the impact we can have for the greater good. I loved watching students talk through justice-based solutions with administrators; it was powerful to watch our Bentley community using those tools together.”
Watch highlights from Bentley’s MLK Day of Social Justice, Celebration, Listening and Learning.
The essence of the day was reflected in the power of community, including students’ collaboration with faculty, staff and alumni. Among the student presenters were more than 20 members of Black United Body (BUB), which sponsored a series of programs on topics such as the role of rap lyrics during criminal trials and Black influence in fashion, music, brand marketing and social media.
“We were thrilled to take a major role in planning as we view it as our duty to live up to our mission statement, which is to celebrate, educate and promote Black culture on and off campus,” says Jaychele Nicole Schenck ’26, who is the inaugural DEI chair of BUB and did an @BentleyU Instagram takeover of her experience at the event.
“Bentley is in a unique position where we are speaking directly to the future business leaders of America, essentially reaching the people who will generate change,” says Adrian Ramonetti ’25, who presented at Representation Matters: Decoding Brand Marketing. “By bringing this topic of representation to the forefront of the minds of Bentley students and faculty, we can create real change.”
Participants in the BUB music session Beyond Beats collaboratively created a playlist celebrating diverse Black musical contributions, while those in the fashion session created mood boards that celebrate fashion elements and origins.
“There’s a trend of Black creativity sparking innovation in the fashion industry,” says BUB Secretary Mama Darboe ’26, who presented the session Black Influence in Fashion. “Fashion has embedded itself into our culture, and Black creatives have had undeniable impact as they pave the way for new ideas.”
Throughout the day, there were opportunities for program participants to recharge — whether through quiet reflection at art exhibition drop-in spaces such as the Art of Bisa Butler and the Art of Gee’s Bend Quilters; or through individual expression at the Lift Ev’ry Voice Faculty and Staff Talent Showcase. Artist-in-residence Andromeda Lisle’s collaborative art installation was inspired by quotes that celebrate the resilience, beauty and positivity within the Native American experience and allowed an opportunity for community participation.
During the closing keynote, Candice Morgan, equity, diversity & inclusion partner at Google Ventures, shared insights on bias in the tech industry, AI and closing the racial wealth gap. Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Tesluk then led a discussion with Morgan and a Q&A with attendees.
Morgan shared her perspective on the innovation economy, specifically the contributions of collaborative team innovation and the impact on economic growth, and the relationship between social inclusion and innovation.
“There is a causative link between diversity and innovation,” she said, specifically noting experiential diversity and social diversity, which goes beyond race and gender to include traits like age and nationality.
“Social diversity is good for the economy when it is harnessed properly,” she said. “There’s more friction of different ideas — it feels harder … but it leads to more ideas and creativity.”
In 1986, Bentley hosted its first MLK Breakfast, which became an annual tradition beloved by the Bentley community due to its effect of bringing together the campus community to reflect, learn from prominent guest speakers and each other, and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The idea for a full day of MLK programming came from Claudette Blot, director of the Bentley Multicultural Center and longstanding member of the MLK Breakfast Committee.
This year’s MLK Committee included faculty, staff and students who worked together to launch the new tradition of all-day learning sessions and programs. The Bentley Mosaic Alumni Council hosted a closing reception
“As we progress on our goal of becoming an anti-racist university, this day of listening, learning and celebration is about coming to grips with our racial past and present as a country and a community,” said Mary Marcel, chair of the committee and associate professor of Information Design and Corporate Communication. “It’s about using this day to inspire us to do the work; to make a reality our dreams for a just, equitable and inclusive future with opportunities open to everyone. It’s about making real Dr. King’s call to be each other’s beloved community.”