Skip to main content

News and Media

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu
Soledad O'Brien speaks at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday, Jan. 20.

Famed journalist O’Brien speaks about life and legacy of MLK; art and essay contest winners announced

Monday, January 24, 2022

Media Contact: Jordan Bishop | Communications Specialist | 405-744-9782 |

An attentive crowd listened to Soledad O’Brien speak Thursday night at The McKnight Center for the Performing Arts about a controversial man who sometimes seems to have had his message distorted over the decades: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

O’Brien, an award-winning documentarian, journalist, speaker, author and philanthropist, was the keynote speaker for OSU's 2022 MLK celebration week. O’Brien’s message echoed that of OSU student Chideha Kanu. Kanu, who spoke earlier in the week following OSU’s annual MLK Day march, said though King is celebrated every year, most don’t know who he really was.

“How much do we really know about Dr. King? And are we OK with the homogenizing of his message,” said O’Brien, whose work has appeared on CNN and HBO, among others. “I did an entire documentary on how ‘I have a dream’ came out. And yet it is only a small chunk of what Dr. King talked about, in all of his speeches, and his sermons and his writings.”

King was not a popular figure in his time, O’Brien said. Gallup polls from the time stated 63 percent of Americans viewed the civil rights leader unfavorably. But in the years since he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, parts of his story have been glossed over. 

O’Brien said many people see the black-and-white photos of King and view it as another era in America, when much of what he was fighting is still prevalent today. It affected O’Brien herself — who is 55 — because her parents had to get married in Washington, D.C. despite living in Baltimore because they were an interracial couple. Her Black Cuban mother and white Australian father were not allowed to get married in the state of Maryland at the time.

“The coverage of Martin Luther King sometimes feels like another man fighting in another country altogether,” O’Brien said. “Those speech videos, you know, black-and-white ones or the photos that seem eons away from our 4k cameras that we have in our cellphones. And the truth is, color photography was established well before the 1960s. But it was still pricey to shoot them and even pricier print those photos. But you can see Dr. King in full color through Google.

“... Dr. King would have been 93 years old, right, which meant he was younger than Betty White with whom he shared a birthday. This is recent American history that we're talking about. Sometimes that vitriol and hatred that Dr. King faced still permeates the America that we love today.”

Although King was a charismatic person, O’Brien revealed that keeping up that persona was something he constantly fought with. Civil rights leaders had picked him to lead the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott because of his charisma and background as a preacher.

But, in O’Brien’s research into his writing, she saw King would write multiple drafts of his speeches, each version getting softer as he had to tone down the anger in his heart.

“It was spellbinding. You could see the books that he was reading and what he underlined in those,” O’Brien said. “You could see where anger would give way to hope from a first draft to a second draft to a third draft, how his tone would change, how the focus of that speech, or that sermon would change. In a way it was like music and someone's giving you a peek at the notes and music and listening to it. 

“He had taken the nation on a journey from Birmingham to Selma trying to wash away the state of racism, and yet his writings reveal a regular man, young, smart, but mostly present when the moment called and stayed when most sane people would run.”

Dr. Leon McClinton Jr., OSU director of Housing and Residential Life, speaks at the McKnight Center for "An Evening with Soledad O'Brien."

His most famous speech wasn’t even titled “I Have a Dream.” It was titled “Normalcy-Never Again,” instead, but King had been working up to the concept of dreams for years. Midway through that speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963, some say he went off script and the “I have a dream” segment was spoken from the heart.

“They are just words of course, but people around the globe and in our own country can recite them,” O’Brien said. “They speak to the promise of our country and that he was grappling with promises unfulfilled.”

O’Brien said a lot of what King fought against is still being debated today and more research needs to be done into the man before making generic posts about him on social media.

“I strongly encourage you to read deeply into Dr. King's writing,” O’Brien said. “And you might find yourself nodding in agreement or shaking your head in strong disagreement. There's a reason those poll numbers were so low. But at least you will know an important figure in American history and understand the civil rights movement.

“I love ‘I Have a Dream,’ but it is such a tiny piece of what Dr. King believed. It is important, but it is not everything. What is it that leads you to do those things that allow you to seek justice and fairness in your life, in your community and the world. And I hope you'll have the courage in the ways that you fight for truth and accuracy and honesty in the stories that we tell.”

O’Brien answered questions from the audience following her speech with the topics ranging from Critical Race Theory to how to amplify more Black voices in your daily life.

Dr. Leon McClinton Jr., OSU director of Housing and Residential Life, was the emcee of the event, which also featured performances from Pokeappella singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sometimes called the Black national anthem. Pokeappella closed the ceremony with “We Shall Overcome.” 

The event also announced the winners of the annual student art contest and essay contest. 

The MLK Celebration Week officially wrapped up with a tour of the Greenwood District in Tulsa on Saturday that looked back at the events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The 2022 MLK Celebration Week was a culmination of many sponsors and committee members, which can be found here:

Meghan Robinson of Inside OSU conducted an interview with O'Brien, which can be viewed below.

Essay Contest Winners

The essay contest this year drew a total of 32 submissions, 17 from graduate students. 

The prompt given students was: "What 'acts' will you take to contribute to the march toward a more just and equitable society? What goals and outcomes would you seek? How could you measure the success of these efforts? How could the University support you in those efforts?"

Three scholarship winners were announced with the scholarships funded by Dr. Jason Kirksey, OSU's vice president for institutional diversity.

The winners were:

1. Shelby Maggard — College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology — $1,500

2. Maria Risley — College of Education and Human Sciences — $1,000

3. Robert Owens III — College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology — $500

Art Contest Submissions

In celebration of Dr. King, the Division of Student Affairs Diversity Programming Committee hosted the 2022 OSU Advocacy through Artivism Contest.

Throughout history, art has been used as an accessible tool for communication, raising awareness about social issues and affecting positive change. Therefore, this year’s competition aims to promote advocacy and activism for social justice by highlighting the stories, experiences, and histories of diverse and historically marginalized peoples through visual art (painting, photography, graphic design, etc.).

The nine winning submissions are on display at the Orange Wall Art Gallery in the basement of the Student Union through Jan. 31. Artists and their descriptions are listed below.

Austin Dawes — "Jagged Landscape"

I began painting myself as a part of a process of “self-romanticization.” It was a method to make my body into something that I could distance from my sense of self and view with the objectivity and enthusiasm I reserved for others.

Brenda Ortiz-Perez — "I am Here"

I am a first-generation student and while my parents supported me being here, it is still a new experience that I was not entirely prepared for. Even after everything I am here, I made it here. For those just like me, I am here, I am here for them, but most importantly I am here for me.

Doreen Adesola — "The Black Woman's Strength"

This piece of art symbolizes the strength African American women in our community possess. These black women are our mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, and friends. They try to stay strong for their families and men, to carry on, and keep pushing for the community in its trying times. On her head are the difficult things happening in the news, not only in this country but also other countries. The black women carry the burden, feels the pain, and it still stays strong.

Jerret Carpenter — "Cowboys in Color"

Hollywood “Westerns” to Oklahoma State’s very own Pistol Pete: America’s cowboy is white. “Cowboys in Color” serves to address this stereotype by overlaying black OSU alumni with the Pistol Pete logo.

Julia Pierce — "By Design"

We often grow up being encouraged to be creative, express ourselves and that we can do anything we set our minds to. At some point in our lives this dialogue shifts and the things we pursue become focused on money and status.

Lenley Brown — "The Originator and The Innovator"

I wanted to acknowledge a story in black history that is seldom talked about, which is the story of Yasuke (yah-sue-kay). Yasuke was the first and only black samurai in Japan from Mozambique. His enemies even acknowledged him as a "dark demon.” The left side of the painting represents Afro samurai, who is an anime cartoon character birthed from the story of Yasuke and the right side represents how Yasuke was demonized because of the color of his skin and unnatural combat skills.

Nahlia Howard — "The Fight for Change and Equality"

This piece portrays the struggle and fight that African Americans have to go through everyday in America. The Selma march in was an important turn and an accomplishment for the black community showing a push toward a new day.

Paige Nguyen — "cháu không biét Tiéng Vięt"

Shortly following the major events of the Vietnam war, by family escaped to the United States throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. While there are obvious, immediate struggles being a refugee, such as pressures to generate income, find housing, and find a place in society, the consequences of assimilation into American life trickle down to later generations as well.

Shyanne Dickey — "I Am a Man"

Historically speaking Black men’s minds have been caged by many oppressive tactics. Tactics such as the Jim Crow laws, Williams Lynch, Charles Darwin, and Charles and John Lynch. These issues and teachings were once the foundation of educating and bringing up and teaching Black men.


Back To Top
SVG directory not found.