On Daring to Dream: Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Antoine Salvador and WJC Admin

 Six decades ago, in August of 1963, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) delivered what would become an iconic speech before a crowd of 250,000 gathered for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the largest gathering for civil rights of its time. “I have a dream,” King declared—a total of nine times in his 17-minute speech—calling not only for civil and economic rights for all but also an end to racism in America. In anticipation of MLK Day 2024, which marks the 95th anniversary of the civil rights leader’s birth, members of the William James College community gathered on Wednesday, January 10 for lunch, fellowship, and an address from Antoine Salvador, PsyD, Assistant Professor, Counseling and Behavioral Health Department and graduate of both the Clinical Psychology Doctorate Program and the Black Mental Health Graduate Academy at William James College. In his remarks, before a crowd including many of his students, Salvador paid homage to Dr. King by drawing on the main points of his famous speech as a means of gauging the progress made, and strides that remain to be taken, in our country’s work toward equal rights for all. 

“[Dr. King] called for an end to racial segregation in [this country]; equal rights and opportunity for Black Americans, which included employment, the right to vote, access to education, and the rights and privileges of all—regardless of race. He highlighted the importance of nonviolent protest to achieve social change [and] addressed the economic disparities faced by Black people, and the need for fair wages, decent housing, and economic opportunities. He envisioned unity and solidarity among all races and backgrounds as a means of achieving justice and equality,” said Salvador, underscoring the “open optimism injected throughout” King’s speech, especially when he called for togetherness—regardless of individuals’ backgrounds—in our nation’s quest for freedom from racism and injustice. 

Salvador pointed to echoes of King’s legacy reverberating in political leaders who identify as BIPOC from Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell to Kamala Harris and Kentanji Brown Jackson—just to name a few. Other small but steady steps include the desegregation of schools and public facilities in 1964; the 1971 approval of bussing, magnet schools, and compensatory education as appropriate remedies to overcome the role of residential segregation; and, in 1988, with 85% of Black students attending majority white institutions, school integration reached an all-time high.

“Some of you may be thinking, ‘Wow, look how far we've come,’ and still others, ‘We still have a long way to go.’ And you are both correct,” said Salvador, pointing to the Supreme Court’s June 2023 decision to prohibit the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. “By disregarding the significance of race, these approaches increase the inevitable risk of further dividing equal opportunity and communities of color,” said Salvador in a nod to women, those with different abilities, and other historically marginalized groups, all of whom benefited from affirmative action. In other words, vast disparities still exist.

“As culturally competent individuals, [we] are responsible to fulfill the fabric of Dr. King’s dream,” said Salvador, harkening back to 2015 when he sought a mentor to support his doc project that aimed to address the experiences of Black doctoral students in clinical psychology programs at predominately white academic institutions. It was Natalie A. Cort, PhD, Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology Department; Director, Black Mental Health Graduate Academy; Co-Director, Center for Multicultural and Global Mental Health who stepped to the proverbial plate with her own dream: “Increased diversity at [William James College] and in the mental health field,” recalled Salvador; the very next year, the Center for Multicultural and Global Mental Health inaugurated the Black Mental Health Graduate Academy. The academic pipeline program, designed to recruit, mentor, and support Black students in masters and doctoral degree programs for mental health counseling, psychology, and leadership, drew heavily from Salvador’s own research which identified mentorship as the number one factor in aiding Black students to apply, attend, and graduate from advanced degrees in psychology—something The Academy “is directly addressing through its commitment to decreasing racial and ethnic disparities by diversifying the mental health workforce and providing support to historically marginalized and underserved groups,” said Salvador, pointing to some staggering statistics:  “[While] racial and ethnic minorities represent 30% of the population, approximately 90% of mental health professionals identify as non-Hispanic White. In 2013, only 5.3% of psychologists were Black/African American (American Psychological Association, 2015) and today less than 5% of Black students are enrolled in graduate-level psychology programs (APA Center for Workforce Studies),” he said, pointing to representation as the resounding answer. 

“A more racially/ethnically diverse mental health workforce is needed to increase competent and compassionate care for all people,” said Salvador who recalled his own youth in Lynn, Mass. “On TV, if there was a good Black man, he was usually a police officer—so I [grew up thinking] I was going to be a police officer,” he said, emphasizing that representation matters. “Young Black and brown kids [need to know] they can work in the mental health field,” said Salvador, noting the importance of making folks who look like them, and him, visible as another integral way forward.

“Even before mainstream awareness—in education and corporate fields—of the need to be more culturally competent and inclusive, William James College has been a leader in implementing programs…necessary to helping achieve diversity, equity and inclusion for all, in our fields of work and beyond,” Salvador said, pointing not only to the Black Mental Health Graduate Academy but also the Latino Mental Health Program and Asian Mental Health Concentration

“The fight for racial justice continues because of injustices faced by systemic racism and economic inequality,” said Salvador, underscoring the real takeaway: “[Despite the passage of 60 years], Dr. King’s dream has not yet been fulfilled; our job is not yet complete.” There is, however, a way forward:

“Diversity matters! It ensures that ALL people are accurately reflected; it challenges and shatters stereotypes, increases the visibility of non-dominant groups, fosters inclusive environments, helps collaborate with allies to dismantle systemic and institutional oppression and lastly, it helps us celebrate our differences in harmony by enriching the human experience for all,” said Salvador, imploring us all to employ the courage displayed by Dr. King: “Let us all continue to be fervent agents of change, despite it being difficult.”


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