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Simmons president keynotes 34th King observance

Martin Luther King Jr.Martin Luther King Jr.

UPDATED Jan. 18: The 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance, virtual for a second straight year, was held at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 17. ACMi broadcast the celebration because of Covid.

Delivering this year's keynote was Dr. Lynn Perry Wooten, the ninth president of Simmons University.

University leader put impossible into practice

Imagine getting married, having a child, writing a Ph.D dissertation and starting a new job in a new city in just two years. All this doesn’t seem possible, yet that is exactly what Dr Wooten accomplished in the 1990s.

She doesn’t recommend taking on that much at once, but her success in doing so illustrates her genius at managing time and prioritizing goals.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2020. Imagine moving to a new city to take the helm of a school on lockdown due to a pandemic, while seeing one child off to college and another off to law school with your partner in Ann Arbor, Mich. No way! Dr. Wooten, however, was perfectly poised for this mission when she became the ninth president of Simmons University in Boston.

Join the birthday observance to learn how Lynn Wooten is inspiring students and staff, initiating positive change and collaborating with peer leaders in higher education.  She is the first African American to lead Simmons in its 121 years of providing women-only undergraduate, and coed graduate school education.

This distinguished scholar specializes in crisis leadership, diversity and inclusion and organizational innovations to find and nurture talent. She grew up in Philadelphia. In 1988, she was valedictorian at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. In 1990 she earned an MBA from Duke University and in 1995, a Ph.D in business administration from the University of Michigan. From the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, she received an advanced educational leadership certificate in 2018.

She taught undergraduate, graduate and executive education courses at the University of Michigan’s Business School for close to 20 years. She was co-faculty director of two leadership institutes there and rose to senior associate dean for student and academic excellence. She won awards for excellent teaching and distinguished service. In 2017, she was appointed dean and professor of management and organization at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University.

Research background

Dr. Wooten’s extensive research included an NIH-funded study of how leadership can alleviate health disparities. She co-wrote two books: Positive Organizing in a Global Society: Understanding and Engaging Differences for Capacity Building and Inclusion and Leading Under Pressure: From Surviving to Thriving Before, During, and After a Crisis. When she began at Simmons, she quipped, “I’m living my research!” 

Jeff Barndt of ACMi News talks to Darryl Hill, who attended Dr. Martin Luther King’s
"I Have a Dream" event at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. Hill, the first
African-American football player in the Atlantic Coast Conference, became known as
"the “Jackie Robinson” of college football.

She brings to Simmons not only a toolkit to repair the damage wrought by the pandemic, but a detailed blueprint of how to “build back better,” to borrow a phrase from President Biden. Back in 1899, Simmons College was founded by a visionary man to not merely educate women, but also to prepare them to be self-sufficient. Now Simmons University has a visionary leader who is addressing the opportunity gap in our society in a myriad of ways that advance social justice and equity.

Outside of academia, Dr. Wooten has been a leadership consultant to organizations, including the Kellogg Foundation, Harvard’s Kennedy School and Google. She also volunteers with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Jack and Jill of America, Junior League and The Links Inc.

Poet laureate, song

Mind you, there are other choice reasons to listen to the MLK Jr. Observance. Arlington Poet Laureate Steven Ratiner recited a poem that he wrote to honor Dr. King (see the full text below). Pastor Ross Goodman of St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church gave the invocation. Jillian Harvey, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for Arlington’s Health and Human Services, was the mistress of ceremonies. The benediction was by the Rev. Erica Richmond of First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church.

Last, tune in for the uplifting melodies. Find solace in the sonorous strains of organ music performed by music director Paul White. A master of gospel, classical and jazz music, he will rock the piano and have you belting out the “Anthem of Freedom” in the comfort of your home, knowing that folks are doing the same all over Arlington in tribute to our slain civil-rights leader.

We Dreamers 

              By Steven Ratinerfor Arlington’s MLK 2022 Celebration. Performing with him were Paul White Jr. on keyboard, musical director for the event, and Dr. Debora Jackson, the singer who filled in at the last moment when Covid precautions pulled away some of the gospel singers who were coming.  

Hearts, too, have their own grammar.
Have a dream.
Had a dream.
I/you/we will have, perhaps –– the dream’s sermon
whispering inside the long night as
we hover, light as birds, clinging to a stem ––
and the moon and stars look down as if
seeing their own reflections for the first time
in these dark waters, where our Preacher stands.

White stone obelisk against the night sky.
It marks the spot where this dream
settled upon the land, nestled above
our countless upturned faces–– and even
the most jaded eyes flooded with possibility.

But then, inside the dream,
fear’s sudden conjugation:
hadn’t a dream?
Might never have?
Sentences, fraying at the seams.
All the spiked doubts battering our restless sleep
while sirens race through panicked streets.
Night mobs us, putting the torch
to all we love, judging us
by the color of our yearning rather than
the content of our beating hearts.

But no­­: in this lucid dreaming
I/you/we declare: no more––
promise ourselves: never again––
refusing to stand by and watch the breath
being choked from another dreamer––
while someone, somewhere turns
fear into power, pain into profit,
lies into a deadening sleep.

Suddenly, amid the torrent of words, we hear
the Preacher’s voice urging: wake up!
And somehow I/you/we do wake,
like children, squinting up at the light.
And now his voice has become a drinking gourd––
we sip and pass it along, looking deep
into one another’s eyes, until all thirst is quenched.

We is the mountain we have to climb.
And we, the promised land the Preacher prophesied.
We, the green valley where we stake our tents––­­ and
we, the still waters we sit beside, serenading the darkness:
Take my hand, Precious Lord, lead me on.
Sweet on the tongue, this dream, this melody,
and even the silence between in which we discover again
love’s heart, still beating.


Broadcast at on the public channels: RCN 629, Verizon 31, Comcast 8, or the government channels: RCN 614, Verizon 26, Comcast 22. The event will also be streamed on Arlington Human Rights Commission Facebook page.

This event is put on by an interfaith group centered in Arlington. Donations: Mail checks to: Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Observance of Arlington, Mass.,P.O. Box 320, Arlington, MA 02476, or donations can be made online at: Arlington MLK Jr. Birthday Observance Committee GoFundMe campaign.

Jan. 18, 2020: 33rd annual observance

This news announcement was published Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, and updated Jan. 11, 2022, with feature by Kate Cubeta. Updated Jan. 17, add ACMi interview with Darryl Hill, as well Jan. 18, to add poem.

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