Darden’s MLK Gathering Calls for Openness and Reflection Upon Personal Leadership

Peter Rodriguez, senior associate dean for degree programs and chief diversity officer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, addressed students, faculty and staff members at the school’s First Coffee celebration in memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., held Jan. 21, with these words:

“I ask that you reflect on this seminal leader, especially as you ponder your own leadership. King’s legacy and impact were broad and far-reaching – touching not just African-Americans, but all people.”

Rodriguez recalled his favorite King speech, delivered in 1967 in Philadelphia, in which King told a group of students that the way in which they work determines the dignity in what they do.

King said, “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures; sweep streets like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera; sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.”

Rodriguez asked the crowd to acknowledge the dignity of others so that they too can strive to always be their very best.

“Everything that we do bears our signature,” Rodriguez added.

Second-year MBA students Nicholas Gross, president of the Black Business Student Forum, and Axel Starke, president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization and a Black Business Student Forum officer, also spoke.

Gross recalled his days in elementary school when he would join others in singing the Negro spiritual, “We Shall Overcome.” He said he would often wonder, “What was it that we needed to overcome?” 

As he grew and became more acquainted with the world, he understood that society had a long way to go in reaching full equality for all of humanity. He encouraged his classmates and fellow members of the Darden community to reach out to those who are different, discover what makes them unique and prepare to have their stereotypes dispelled.

“Many of you may have heard about the rant made by Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback, against his opponent, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree,” Gross said. “Because of his remarks, he was called many stereotypical names such as ‘thug’ on social media networks.”

Gross informed the audience that Sherman in fact does not fit the stereotypes held of some young, black professional athletes.

“He came from a good two-parent home, graduated from college with a degree in communications and volunteers to help young people bring out their personal best,” Gross said.

Gross does not condone the negative remarks that Sherman made, but he doesn’t believe that he deserved the stereotypical labels mentioned in social media.  

As the country discusses this incident, Gross suggested that people examine the whole person instead of developing fixed views based on one moment.

“I challenge you to seek out others who are different from you and tear down your stereotypes,” Gross said.

Starke invited the community to attend an MLK gathering to be hosted by the Black Graduate and Professional Student Organization on Jan. 29 in Darden’s Abbott Center Auditorium. The presentation, “Black.White / Rich.Poor / Male.Female: The Roadmap for Me to Pursue My Dreams,” will begin at 5:30 p.m.

A viewing of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech followed the morning’s remarks.

In line with MLK activities, Darden Dean Bob Bruner’s latest blog post, “Living Into the Challenge: A Reflection on the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” explores how transformations change leaders.

Media Contact

Matt Charles

University Deputy Spokesperson Office of University Communications