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The City Journals

CNN host visits South Salt Lake SLCC campus for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Jan 29, 2019 02:15PM ● By Cami Mondeaux

W. Kamau Bell giving a lecture on January 17 at the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC). The lecture was a collaboration of Westminster College’s B.W. Bastian Diversity Lecture Series and SLCC’s Martin Luther King celebration events. (Photo courtesy Steve Speckman)

By Cami Mondeaux | c.mondeaux@mycityjournals.com

“Look at me, I got a white guy bringing me a chair out,” says CNN host W. Kamau Bell as he enters the stage. The crowd bursts into laughter. 

A sold-out crowd gathered on Jan. 17 in the Grand Theatre at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) as part of the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019. 

The lecture was a collaboration of Westminster College’s B.W. Bastian Diversity Lecture Series and SLCC’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration events. According to Deneece Huftalin, president of SLCC, the event intended to “create space for critical and civil discussion about events we face as a nation.” 

The event intended to “create space for critical and civil discussion about events we face as a nation,” Deneece Huftalin, president of SLCC, added. 

“It places education at the center of community engagement,” Bethami Dobkin, president of Westminster College, said to the crow

After a night of laughing and technical difficulties, the CNN host used his humor and vulnerability to push Martin Luther King’s legacy forward. 

“I don’t feel pressured to explain Martin Luther King to you,” Bell said. “That’s not my job tonight […] My job is to look at the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and push it forward [and] figure out how to get to the next place.”

Bell is an Emmy-nominated host of CNN’s documentary series “United Shades of America,” traveling around the U.S. giving Americans a closer look at lesser well-known subcultures. He “sheds light on the indignities and injustices that have permeated out nation’s history,” according to CityWeekly.net. 

Bell also gets invited to speak on college campuses throughout the country, especially during January and February around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Bell had a list of lessons he wanted to show his audience that night, encouraging them to be vulnerable, engage in uncomfortable conversations and take chances. 

Bell showed a variety of different scenes from his series to showcase difficult conversations he engaged in to learn more about other’s lives. Engaging in these uncomfortable discussions, he said, helps one learn from people they otherwise wouldn’t talk to. 

He tells the stories he’s heard from incarcerated individuals, Mexico residents living on other side of the wall and a young Sikh boy. Understanding and listening to others is crucial to empathize and become united. 

Bell showed a scene from his series where he went to visit his grandmother’s old house in a neighborhood that was torn down. He said it was important to not “forget to feel stuff” in front of viewers, to create a sense of solidarity. 

Bell began and ended his lecture with scenes from when he attended a Ku Klux Klan (KKK) cross burning meeting. Although he said he was scared, he knew this was the kind of chance he was lecturing others to take. 

The KKK is an American hate group. These cross burnings they participate in date back to Medieval Europe. It is often used a symbol of intimidation and has historically been performed before lynchings of black men, according to Medium.com. 

Bell said that although being vulnerable is important to understanding others’ stories, during the burning he did not allow himself to cry. 

“What I was thinking in that moment was ‘Don’t cry,’” Bell said. “That was a time I didn’t feel the need to be vulnerable […] Something in that moment said, ‘You cannot give them the satisfaction of crying… because of all of the black people who were in this moment who knew this was the last thing they would see.”