2012 MLK Jr. Commemorative Address Host Talks Road to Awareness
Michael Vidal has always known difference. He recalls the first day of a high school honors English class where he was the only person of color. Arriving a few minutes early, he found the classroom empty and took a seat. When another student came in, he looked at Vidal and asked if it was the right class. Vidal said yes. And then the student asked again: “The honors English class?”
“I have always experienced difference. I know many other people have had that experience—it’s not just about race,” says Vidal, who served as host of this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr., commemorative address. “It’s not that it was a bad experience—I haven’t had bad experiences but I’ve always felt the experience.”
Being asked to participate in the 2012 Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration was a natural progression for the senior who is in his second stint as director of the Diversity Support Coalition. He also serves on the President’s Commission on the Status of People of Color, and is a mentor for CONNECT, a program offering support to multicultural undergrads. And in 2011, Vidal attended the MLK Leadership Summit Student and spent three days learning how to be a leader in a multicultural world.
“When I was a kid, I moved around a lot and wherever I went, I was different,” Vidal says. “It wasn’t just me being different; it was others being different from me. It goes both ways. Sometimes things aren’t named.”
Coming to UNH and getting involved with multicultural and social justice organizations changed things for him in a tangible way.
“It has given me a language,” Vidal says. “I found out ‘Oh, that’s what privilege is. That’s what white privilege is.’ I would guess a lot of people don’t have a name for those things, either.”
Vidal says when he arrived at UNH, he was pretty much like any other first-generation college student, trying to figure it all out: financial aid, residence life, what courses to take. And then he met Karoline Goulart in a Spanish seminar. She waited for him after class, introducing herself as president of MOSAICO, the Latino student organization on campus, and asking if he would like to attend a meeting.
That meeting led to his involvement in other organizations on campus. It led to awareness. And it led to the call to action he delivered during the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration this year where he told the audience we have all inherited the legacy of oppression. And that activism and civic responsibilities on college campuses have been forgotten. We have come to think, he said, that the work has been done.
“Do not be fooled by false beliefs that we have overcome all barriers with only a few loose ends to fix - they’re merely illusions,” Vidal said. “We benefit from the work of those who have come before us yet we must not dwell on a victory for long. Progress has been made, however, it is our duty to continue, and we have a long way to go.”
“I wasn’t searching for anything when I got here,” Vidal says. “Then I met Karoline. I think it was fate. It’s ironic that I could come to something like this in New Hampshire. But it shows—change can happen anywhere.”
He told the audience during the Martin Luther King, Jr., event on Feb. 2, 2012, that it is all about holding each other accountable for our actions. Inclusiveness, he said, is a way of being; a core value; a part of who we are; our identity.
“We have to remember. When we talk about inclusiveness, about social justice, we are not just talking about topics,” Vidal says. “We are talking about people’s lives.”
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