Thursday, January 30, 2020

Reflections of MLK Legacy

collage of images from Rio MLK Celebration

“I always wanted to march but was too young,” said Dr. Wanda Tucker, recalling her days as a child watching marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. on television during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. 

That was the inspiration for Tucker and Rio Salado College to begin a tradition of hosting an MLK Celebration at the college headquarters in Tempe. The 2nd annual event took place on Jan. 23, 2020.

photo of MLK event and attendees.

“Dr. Tucker had a vision for this celebration and has been a driving force in making this a priority for our college,” said Rio Salado Interim President Kate Smith. “I am proud of the Rio Salado employees who came together under Dr. Tucker's leadership to create a dynamic and poignant program that gives students, employees and members of our community a chance to gather in reflection of Martin Luther King’s legacy, share personal stories about what equality means to them and take part in the tradition of marching to song for Civil Rights,” said Smith.

Tucker serves as Rio Salado College’s faculty senate president and faculty chair for Psychology, Philosophy and Religious Studies. She has been featured in local and national media in recent months, including a USA Today 1619 series about retracing her family's history as a descendant of the first generation of African slaves brought to the United States. She will also be featured on the cover of USA Today’s Black History Month edition released Feb. 1.

snapshot from USA Today 1619 series, image of Wanda Tucker and her family with Pam Tucker at a grave site
USA Today 1619 series chronicles Dr. Tucker's journey into the past.

Among Tucker’s discoveries chronicled in the USA Today 1619 series was meeting Dr. Pam Tucker, a descendant of the family, which evidence indicates, enslaved Wanda Tucker’s ancestors. They have been friends ever since.

Wanda Tucker joins Pam Tucker at Rio Salado College to talk about their discoveries

Pam Tucker flew out from Austin, Texas to take part in the Rio Salado MLK Celebration. Both women shared the stage to tell their stories and then joined arm in arm to help lead event attendees in a march and sing-along to We Shall Overcome. This azcentral story provides more insights into their discussion.

Pam Tucker and Wanda Tucker lead march around Rio Salado College

“Understanding our history is critical to understanding who we are today and how we can move forward,” said Tucker.

Pam Tucker and Wanda Tucker pose for a photo

“Remembering our not-so-distant past when people of color were enslaved, segregated and couldn’t vote will hopefully remind us of the importance of equality, help us avoid making the same mistakes, and hopefully one day help our country heal from divisiveness.” 

Pam Tucker, Wanda Tucker and Rio Salado Interim President Kate Smith singing We Shall Overcome.

“This MLK celebration is a reflection of our commitment to championing justice and equal rights for all,” said Interim President Kate Smith. “We are honored to host this event as beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by Dr. King and countless Civil Rights activists and hope it will remain a college tradition for years to come.” 

A recorded live stream of the opening ceremony, presentations and discussions are available on YouTube. Event photos are available on Facebook.

By Rio Salado College Media Relations Manager Annette Flores