The University of Idaho welcomed Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and educator from Seattle, to deliver the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. keynote address Thursday night.
The second floor of the Pitman Center filled with people as event organizers quickly set out more chairs to accommodate the growing crowd.
Oliver started her speech with an exercise in breathing. She told the audience to breathe deeply and let go of something negative, then to hold on to something positive.
“You cannot set right what you first do not fully acknowledge,” Oliver said.
Oliver then transitioned into one of her favorite pastimes — reading poetry. Oliver’s first poem drew comparisons between boxing and life, recalling Muhammad Ali’s famous quote: “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread then they can make something out of me.”
Oliver then recounted a story of her family. Oliver said she prefers to tell her story first so the audience can possess their own story.
“I don’t blame anyone living now for the history you were given or the history I was given,” Oliver said. “But what I do find us culpable for is what we do with that history, how we either allow or do not allow the things that we know about that history that are not healthy or good for us as individual or our community – how we allow that to continue.”
By owning the whole story, Oliver said a person can look more holistically at what they can do.
Oliver then discussed law school and how she perceives the current justice system. She said that while there are plenty of problems in the current system that need to change, deeper cultural issues are also in dire need of a shift.
Oliver said racism is not made up of big moments but of small ones, like when King staged his lunch counter sit-in.
Sonya Sodano, a freshman at UI, said Oliver’s message of love and justice stuck with her after the conclusion of the keynote.
Kali Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kalinelson6