Cheryl Henderson MLK Dinner Bryant
Cheryl Henderson speaks with Ashley Pena ’24 and Danielle Latty ’24 during the Q-and-A portion of Bryant's annual MLK Legacy Dinner on March 5.
At MLK Legacy Dinner, Cheryl Henderson urged attendees to 'Stand up, show up, speak up'
Mar 08, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa

On March 5, Cheryl Brown Henderson, educator, public policy advocate, and daughter of civil rights leader Rev. Oliver L. Brown, delivered the keynote address for Bryant University’s 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Dinner. 

Postponed from its original date in February due to inclement weather, the dinner, held in George E. Bello Center’s Stephan Grand Hall, has long been an important part of Bryant’s celebration of Black History Month. Previous keynote speakers have included Ilyasah Shabazz, Tamika D. Mallory, Michael Eric Dyson, and Bernice King.

At the start of the event, Toni Baisden, director of the Intercultural Center, thanked campus and student organizations  — including the PWC Center for Diversity and Inclusion, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of Student Activities, the Multicultural Student Union, the Student Programming Board, the International Student Organization, the International Business Association, the Alliance for Women's Awareness, Black Women's Blueprint, and Bryant Student Government — for their involvement. 

“I appreciate your dedication not only to the event, but to the university,” she said, before welcoming Bryant President Ross Gittell, Ph.D., to the podium.

“Now, more than half a century after his death, Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision for American society has yet to be fully realized,” he said. “This is why this dinner, and the other student-led events aimed at reflection, learning, and understanding, are so important.”

Following Gittell’s remarks, Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean of Students, and Chief Diversity Officer Inge-Lise Ameer, Ed.D., commented on the legacies of both Dr. King and of those who contributed to the landmark civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education, including Henderson’s father.

"The Civil Rights Movement would not have been successful had people decided that complacency was the best route. Brown v. Board of Education’s case would not have happened if people decided that complacency was the best route.”

Henderson was one of three daughters of the late Rev. Oliver L. Brown who, in the fall of 1950 along with 12 other parents in Topeka, Kansas, and led by attorneys for the NAACP, filed suit on behalf of their children against the local Board of Education to battle against racial segregation in public schools. Their case joined with others in Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that separating schoolchildren because of race was unconstitutional, a major victory for the Civil Rights Movement in America.

“Back when my parents were raising us and became part of Brown v. Board, they were not activists, by the way,” Henderson, founding president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research, told the audience of students, faculty, staff, and alumni during her keynote address. “They were just simply raising their family.”

Nevertheless, Henderson explained, her parents heeded history’s call and contributed to real change. Henderson challenged the audience to do the same in the face of today’s greatest challenge to educational equity: the chronic underfunding of public schools that serve students of color.

“We talk about failing underfunded public schools: Really? When collectively the public has more money than God herself? Come on now,” she said. “That is the kind of rhetoric we should not stand for, which is why we need to always stand up, show up, speak up, go to school board meetings, go to city council meetings, lobby our congressional representatives. The Civil Rights Movement would not have been successful had people decided that complacency was the best route. Brown v. Board of Education’s case would not have happened if people decided that complacency was the best route.”

At the conclusion of her talk, Henderson took part in a question and answer session led by Ashley Pena ’24 and Danielle Latty ’24, where she discussed the impact of Brown v. Board on her family and her advice for the modern generation of activists.

“Your generation, you guys, have all the power,” Brown told the students in the audience. “Maybe you didn't know it, but I'm telling you tonight, you've got all the power. The Civil Rights Movement was a youth movement. It wasn't people like me at my current age. It was people at your age.”

Brown was also presented with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award, which recognizes individuals who exemplify Dr. King's spirit, life, teachings, and commitment to service and who have made significant and tangible contributions in the areas of race relations, justice, and human rights through their work.

Read More

Related Stories