At MLK Legacy Day, an Empowering Call for the Harmony of Self-Care and Success 

Wes Woodson smiles on stage in front of a colorful illustration of Martin Luther King Jr.

Wes Woodson ’20, too, has a dream. 

The mental health advocate and professional public speaker returned to Babson College on Thursday to share that dream and deliver the keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Day event, the centerpiece of the College’s Black History Month celebration. 

Woodson commanded the stage at the Carling-Sorenson Theater for nearly an hour with a deeply personal presentation that was both moving and inspirational. He shared the story of his mental health journey—which he documented in his 2021 book, I Have Anxiety (so what?)—and answered questions, demonstrating the importance of self-care, sharing actionable advice for students, and empowering everyone to be more humane to themselves. 

“My dream is for all Babson students here to feel less ashamed talking about their feelings, honestly more empowered to feel less alone in those feelings, and I honestly believe that success and self-care don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They can be very much of a harmonious experience,” said Woodson, who recently completed his first national speaking tour. 

Woodson concluded by recalling King’s most famous speech. “I similarly have a dream that everyone’s pursuit of their dream can be from a place of solace not a place of survival,” he said. “You are enough, and you’ve always been enough. And my question to all of you is: How are you going to help humanity?” 

Wes Woodson bows while the audience stands in applause in the wide view of the theater
Wes Woodson ’20 acknowledges the standing ovation following his keynote address. (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

Being Humane to Ourselves 

The theme of the event was “Make a Career of Humanity,” based on a 1959 speech by King to support the youth march for integrated schools. Woodson drew on that inspiration to say that a career of humanity begins by being more humane to ourselves.  

It was a powerful message that captivated the full house of students, faculty, and staff, especially Haja Fatoumata Ba ’24, the president of the Babson Black Student Union who introduced Woodson. 

“Wes does a lot of meaningful work, and I think his message resonates to a lot of students,” she said. “I think that a lot of the exercises he was discussing would be very beneficial for a lot of students, and I love that he’s promoting mental health. It’s such a beautiful thing.” 

“Wes does a lot of meaningful work, and I think his message resonates to a lot of students. … I love that he’s promoting mental health. It’s such a beautiful thing.”
Haja Fatoumata Ba ’24, president of the Babson Black Student Union

In particular, Ba was impressed by Woodson’s points that work doesn’t equal worth and that every person’s identity is more than their anxieties. 

“I think in the world of fast-paced entrepreneurs—all of these amazing people who are doing great things and making so much money—a lot of Babson students aspire to be one of those people,” she said. “And I think a lot of the times, we see our worth in how well we do in classes and at Babson and then what we do after, and I think it’s important to separate your self-worth from how much work you do. 

“You are more than your mental health issues, and you are more than the work that you do,” Ba added. “You are a person. I feel like sometimes Babson students forget you have all these other things that make you ‘you,’ and it’s not just what you got in this class or what company you’re interning for. You’re a person outside of that.” 

MLK Leadership Award Winners 

Ba also was recognized as one of five recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award, a prestigious honor in the Babson community, presented annually at the MLK Legacy Day event. 

“Tonight, we recognize the leaders within our community who champion what is right and go above and beyond for the betterment of the world around them,” President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA’92, PhD said during his welcome message. “Every day, we have the responsibility to live and promote the values Dr. King espoused. His leadership and legacy motivate and inspire us as a community committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and as One Babson.” 

Haja Fatoumata Ba speaks at the podium during the event
Haja Fatoumata Ba ’24, the president of the Babson Black Student Union who introduced Woodson. Haja Fatoumata Ba ’24, the president of the Babson Black Student Union who introduced Woodson, was one of five recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award. (Photo: Nic Czarnecki)

The honorees this year included Ba (undergraduate student), Rhesa Teesdale ’23, MSEL’24 (graduate student), Elissa Kalver ’09 (alumni), Michele Brown Kerrigan (faculty), and Lorien Romito (staff). They shared their thoughts on what the MLK Leadership Award means to them: 

Haja Fatoumata Ba ’24, president, Babson Black Student Union: “It means a lot to me. I’m very passionate about advocating for the Black students at Babson and articulating the experience that we have. There are so many Black student leaders at Babson, and the work they do is just driven by passion and by the theme today, ‘A Career of Humanity.’ ”  

Rhesa Teesdale ’23, MSEL’24, CEO, Prophet | Envoy: “This is honestly surreal for me. I have looked up to MLK for as long as I can remember and to know that I am the recipient of a leadership award named after him has become a full-circle moment. Being an entrepreneur for four years requires tough skin and resilience, and MLK demonstrated both of those qualities in his fight for civil rights. … This award gave me the reassurance I need that I am creating a social impact in my community and will continue to do so for years to come.” 

Elissa Kalver ’09, founder and CEO, “This award means the world to me. As I embarked on my mission for a couple of years ago, the Babson alumni were such a huge part in expanding my thoughts from something small to something so much bigger. The idea I started evolved very quickly into a national nonprofit tech startup, and I never could have reached that point without the lessons I learned while at Babson, and the community that has stuck with me through it all. I believe that my impact would not be as powerful or as broad if it weren’t for my Babson family.” 

Michele Brown Kerrigan, assistant professor of practice in the Management Division: “It means everything! I am so very humbled to receive the MLK Leadership Award. For quite some time, I’ve been working hard behind the scenes, using any and all resources available to me, to create more inclusive spaces and practices at Babson. I approach my work with authenticity and integrity. I also employ an allyship framework in how I govern my approach to DEI work, which is iterative and ongoing. So, to receive this award from my colleagues is such a significant honor, and signals to me that my work is hopefully making an impact on campus.” 

Lorien Romito, senior director of international education at Babson: “I am deeply honored to be nominated for this award. The MLK Leadership Award has recognized so many incredible Babson faculty, staff, and students for their social justice efforts over the years.  I feel humbled and grateful to have my name in association with any of these past awardees and especially with Dr. King and his legacy.”

Creativity Contest Winners 

The MLK Legacy Day event also announced the winners of the annual Creativity Contest, which were on display at a reception following the program. This year’s winners included three powerful poems: 

  • 1st Prize: “Wearing Your Privilege” by Alyssa Keith ’24 
Close-up of the first-prize winning poem on display
  • 2nd Prize: “Voices of the Unheard” by Kaif Bailey ’26 
Close-up of the second-prize winning poem on display
  • 3rd Prize: “Spotlight” by Zoe Pulido ’27 
The third-prize winning poem and photo on display

(Photos: Nic Czarnecki)

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