On MLK Legacy Day, a Call to Action

James Blake speaks from behind a podium

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Ideas require action to make an impact. Activists, like entrepreneurs, know the importance of taking that first step. Arthur Ashe’s famed quote—which echoes Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A™)—resonated throughout Babson College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Day event.

James Blake, the former professional tennis player, used the wise words of his hero and mentor to frame his keynote address, which weaved his personal story with a call to action: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” he concluded. “You guys can make a huge difference in this world.”

Blake’s keynote address was the centerpiece of the MLK event, which attracted about 200 in person and more than 400 others online and is the highlight of Babson’s celebration of Black History Month.

“For me, MLK Legacy Day is a timely reminder of the importance of history, context, and the role that higher education and college students have played in organizing themselves to effect social change and justice,” Lawrence P. Ward, vice president and dean of campus life, told the audience in a stirring and inspiring speech.

“History matters because it provides a special kind of thread that we now conceptualize as One Babson, which allows us to weave our institutional, our cultural, our religious, our ethnic, our racial, our gender, our political, and our downright personal differences to a larger and more meaningful whole.”

The Power of Grace

Blake provided a unique and personal history lesson. He recounted in chilling detail the 2015 experience in which he was tackled and handcuffed by an undercover New York police officer who mistook him for a fraud suspect. That haunting injustice helped Blake to take his first steps into activism, following the footsteps of Ashe and King.

Portrait of Judithe Registre
Judithe Registre MS’22

Blake’s speech—which also described overcoming professional and personal heartbreaks—particularly struck a powerful chord with Judithe Registre MS’22, a global gender equality catalyst for a more equitable future for all, working on addressing the role of capital and resources to create wealth.

“James Blake’s remarks on his experience of showing grace is rather complex in execution when dealing directly with injustice,” Registre said. “He reminded me (and all of us) that, as is the legacy of MLK, grace is something you practice to be able to offer when the time comes for you to show grace in the face of gross injustice. You cannot tap into resources that are not available in your system.

“There is something extraordinary about influencing progress; it requires transforming the whole of your being to transform others. That’s the work of grace; that’s the work of MLK’s legacy and the work that we are called to do to transform this time for future generations.”

Similarly, Shakenna Williams ’94, the founder of the Black Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (BWEL), drew parallels to the words of King.

“James Blake’s story reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that,’ ” Williams said. “Mr. Blake’s reflection on this life experience inspired us to turn our challenges into an opportunity to champion others.”

“Coming to Babson has provided me with an incredible experience of being part of a community where I am seen for who I am, my ideas, and my desire to contribute.”
Judithe Registre MS’22

Natalie Williams-Rispoli, director of Babson’s Multicultural and Identity Programs, said she was most impressed with the response from students who heard Blake’s call to action.

“Mr. Blake’s advice to find one’s passion was invaluable because it is the things that we are passionate about that drive us beyond discouragement, beyond fatigue, beyond rejection,” Williams-Rispoli said. “Our passion fuels us to keep going. It is the collective voice of students fueled by passion that Mr. Blake ignited within the audience at the MLK event.”

MLK Leadership Awards

Registre and Williams provide their own examples of inspiration. They were among six honorees who were presented with the prestigious Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award at the MLK Legacy Day event.

Portrait of Shakenna Williams
Shakenna Williams ’94

“It is an honor to be recognized by my peers to receive Babson’s Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award,” said Williams, also the executive director of Babson’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL). “The Center of Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership fosters inclusive innovation and shines the light on the impact women are making in the world. It’s truly a dream to be on this journey with so many stellar entrepreneurial leaders.”

“To be recognized by the Babson community is simply incredible. You do not give of yourself to be recognized, but rather because it is what your heart calls on you to do,” said Registre, the graduate student recipient. “Being recognized is even more meaningful because it reminded me that coming to Babson has provided me with an incredible experience of being part of a community where I am seen for who I am, my ideas, and my desire to contribute.”

The MLK Leadership Award is presented to alumni, current students, faculty, and staff members who continue to uphold King’s legacy in the Babson community. The other award winners this year are:

  • David Heath ’05 and Andrew Heath MBA’12, co-founders of Bombas. “They have shaped their business to not only provide a quality product, but also lift up and support several historically underrepresented populations, those who are homeless as well as the Black and LGBTQ communities,” said Gina Regonini, senior associate director, affinity programs and annual giving.
  • Anjali Bal, associate professor of marketing at Babson and co-chair of the MLK Legacy Day committee. “Anjali champions others through service and a devotion to improving the lives of others—faculty, staff, students, friends, family, even strangers,” said Sandra Bravo MBA’87, senior lecturer of marketing. “She is the first to stand up in support of those marginalized and to volunteer to make better the lives of others.”
  • Kai Lightner ’22, a 12-time national champion rock climber and advocate. “Kai made a choice to improve the industry he loves so much and as such has become a beacon of change to making climbing and the outdoor industry more inclusive and equitable,” Bal said. “Kai’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion is felt not only through his own outreach, but through the creation of his nonprofit Climbing for Change.”

Babson President Stephen Spinelli Jr. MBA92, PhD praised the honorees for carrying on King’s legacy.

“Dr. King noted that ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?’ It is the fundamental question of values-based leadership,” Spinelli said in remarks at the celebration. “Entrepreneurial leadership is about answering that question. Our MLK Leadership Award winners exemplify this ideal.”

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