UChicago Law Student Reflects on MLK Anniversary in Memphis

To recognize the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 2018, Rainbow PUSH organized a bus tour to Memphis, Tenn., for dozens of Chicagoans. The Office of Civic Engagement sponsored Subria Whitaker, a first year University of Chicago law student, to go on the trip. The following are her reflections on the experience.

Q: Why did you apply to participate in the bus tour to Memphis?

A: I applied to participate in the tour because I wanted to immerse myself, first-hand, in a small narrative of the civil rights movement. When I saw the email, I immediately thought about my family members marching on Bloody Sunday, my father serving in Vietnam, and my mom protesting and marching in Alabama 50 years ago. Growing up, I've always been told that in order to know where I'm going, I must know where I've been, and that's what exactly what this tour was about. When I applied to law school, I made the commitment to speak for those who cannot adequately speak for themselves; and to turn life's pain into passion, so that I can find my purpose. Sometimes, the experiences needed to fulfill these commitments just can't be found in a classroom, and as expected, this experience was one of them.

Subria Whitaker in Memphis, Tenn.

Q: What were some of the most memorable aspects of the trip to Memphis?

A: The I AM 2018 Mountaintop Conference at Mason Temple was the most memorable; it included a video message from President Barack Obama, moving song selections, and a breathtaking speech from Dr. Bernice A. King. Second, was the Sanitation Workers Rally and March hosted by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Common delivered an outstanding live performance of  'Glory' (from the Motion Picture Selma), which really complimented remarks from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Bobby Rush. Rev. Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, Chris Tucker, and Glynn Turman led the march to Mason Temple, where elementary school children stood waiting for us, clapping, and cheering us on. At that moment, I realized how important the youth are, and I will never forget that image. 
Q: What are your top one or two takeaways from the experience?

A: An injustice anywhere, truly is a threat to justice everywhere. It is so important to tell our stories to each other and our children, so that we learn from history and continue to make progress in the journey to justice, equity and equal rights for all. We have come so far, but we have so much further to go. Dr. King may have seen the Promised Land, but it's up to us–and generations to come–to lead us to the mountaintop. Change is incremental, so even when you can't see it, it's happening, and you must see it through.

Q: You are very involved in community and civic engagement activities as a student at the University of Chicago. This includes serving on the Office of Civic Engagement Student Advisory Committee, mentoring for the UChicago Careers In Law Mentorship Program, volunteering with the Law School's community service organization Neighbors, and tutoring for Kenwood Academy’s Gates Scholarship Program, TrueStar Media and Hip Hop Detoxx. Was there a particular experience that inspired you to become so involved in community activities?

A: My parents have always encouraged me to pay it forward, donate my time, and do what's right. When a community is good to you, you must give back; when a community is failing you, you must give back until it is good to those that follow. I always try to be the change that I want to see and the person that I wish someone could've been for me. It doesn't cost much to be a good person and help someone else, so the least I can do is invest in humanity and our quest for equity.
Q: Why is your community involvement and social justice work important to you?

A: My community involvement and social justice work is important to me, because there were so many people who sacrificed and fought for the very rights and privileges that I have today. To ensure that those sacrifices were not in vain, and despite the everyday challenges that I face as a black woman, it is still my responsibility to use my privilege and seek justice not just for myself, but for everyone. Communities are an investment for those in it, around it, near it, and far from it. I think everyone is better off when everyone succeeds, and positive change starts with every community service activity and social justice project, no matter how small.

Q: What are your future aspirations when you graduate from law school?

A: When I started, I was certain that I wanted a career in Sports and Entertainment Law, but now, I'm not so sure. I am open to wherever the legal field and my passion for justice may take me, as long as I can educate, inspire, and advocate for others. Whether I'm an attorney at a big law firm with a generous pro bono initiative, a public servant leader, or the CEO of my own law firm, I will contribute my time and resources to worthy causes, so that I can make positive and impactful change in my community. 

Originally posted April 26, 2018

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