By Melissa Schill
Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., will be the keynote speaker for the inaugural Rodney Sisco Symposium on Feb. 5-6 at Wheaton.
“Dr. Bernice King’s keynote is going to be important, instructive, encouraging and challenging,” said Vice President of Student Development Paul Chelsen, who serves on Wheaton’s planning committee for the Symposium. “To have Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter on campus is a privilege for us to learn from her and her experience and her expertise and leadership.”
In the future, the annual Symposium, which promotes “Christ-centered leadership, diversity and unity” will be hosted by other schools in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). John Brown University in Arkansas will host the event in 2021.
“Our hope and vision for the Symposium is not that it’s a one and done kind of event, but that it creates momentum for regular engagement and dialogue,” Chelsen said.
Sisco’s wife, Hasana Pennant Sisco (‘86), championed the Symposium’s creation after Sisco’s death on Dec. 30, 2018, and she currently works as co-executive director of the event.
“Hasana is committed to making sure not just Wheaton College but the rest of the CCCU schools can build on the work of diversity and inclusion and justice,” Chief Intercultural Officer Sheila Caldwell said. “We’ve been able to come alongside Hasana and contribute with our financial and healing capital.”
The Symposium will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 5 with a chapel message from Daniel Hill, assistant professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. That evening, faculty, students and other members of the Wheaton and CCCU community can attend the second annual Rodney K. Sisco Diversity Student’s Choice Award ceremony. Last year the award was presented to Ms. Sisco and her two sons, Juwan and Jabari.
EVP of Community Diversity Estefy Hernandez, one of the members of the committee that chose this year’s Diversity Student’s Choice Award winners, said that student candidates were chosen based on their “outstanding hospitality and enhancement of strong education efforts to strengthen and sustain equity-minded practices.”
“These candidates stood out in their collaboration in their scholarship and community to cultivate a deep appreciation for diversity and reconciliation,” Hernandez said.
Thursday’s schedule features four panel discussions with both visiting and local speakers. The lineup will include lectures from staff members of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation. Several faculty and student panels will also occur throughout the day, covering topics such as diverse relationships. Stevener Gaskin will give a spoken word performance and there will be a showing of “1619: The Journey of a People,” a musical about some of the first African slaves who arrived in Jamestown, Va.
Caldwell stressed the importance of having local leaders and community members speak. “Who are those professors and key members in our community that you can continuously learn from? That’s the goal of having the panel discussions; we have people on campus who are experts and well versed in these issues and who can help augment and enhance our perspectives,” Caldwell said.
“My challenge, my hope, my encouragement is that everyone in our community consider at least one opportunity to connect with the symposium as a way of understanding God’s heart,” Chelsen said. “We see the symposium as very much reflecting the heart of the community we are seeking to become. We want to learn together how to love the Lord and how to love one another. That’s really our heart.”