WORLD HOUSE: Connecting the Global Community
The University of Florida’s Digital Worlds Institute in cooperation with Martin Luther King Jr.’s alma mater, Morehouse College, kicked off the first of four interactive global webcasts along with experts from institutions in China, India, Kenya and South Africa. They discussed and shared in real-time King’s meaning for the 21st century.
WORLD HOUSE: Connecting the Global Community
On the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the technology he lamented had overshadowed the human spirit was used to power four interactive global webcasts that transcend race, class, nation and religion.
The University of Florida’s Digital Worlds Institute in cooperation with King’s alma mater Morehouse College in Atlanta kicked off the first of four interactive global webcasts at 10 a.m. EDT on Friday, April 4, when experts from UF and Morehouse, along with institutions in China, India, Kenya and South Africa, discussed and shared in real-time King’s meaning for the 21st century, said James Oliverio, director of UF’s Digital Worlds Institute. The other three programs were also scheduled at 10 a.m. on successive Fridays in April, and all could be viewed at www.worldhouse.morehouse.edu.
In his “World House” speech upon accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, King said “modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think….yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.”
The UF-Morehouse international conversation used technology to bridge that divide, Oliverio said. “We’re going to have a cultural exchange, a scholarly dialogue and a motivational call to action for the students of today to carry forward the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who proceeded with the nonviolent resistance movement of Mahatma Gandhi in India and influenced Nelson Mandela in South Africa,” he said. “Using technology to literally connect places across the globe simultaneously, we will create a shared virtual space around the world on the network and have performances and workshops over that global platform.”
The outreach developed from a collaboration between UF and Morehouse College, the recipient of about 10,000 pieces of Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal writings in 2006. Terry Mills, a former UF dean who moved to Morehouse in 2007 to become the Margaret Mitchell Marsh Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, said the idea came in discussions he had with Oliverio about how the two institutions might use the acquisition in educational programming.
The innovativeness of the technology at Digital Worlds Institute, which Mills called the “Imac Theater of Videoconferencing” for its ability to allow multiple partners around the globe to engage in an interactive, unified virtual space, made UF the natural choice to help produce the program, he said. “There are also geographic and historical reasons for the connection, notably Gainesville’s close proximity to St. Augustine where Dr. King had led freedom marches as well as its location near the site of the Rosewood massacre,” Mills said.
The purpose of the global discussions was not only to remind the world of King’s legacy but to keep his vision alive, as his message continues to have relevance today, Oliverio said.
“This is a memorial to Dr. King, not just in the sense of looking backward to some academic papers in a museum, but honoring his life’s work in the hopes that students of today at Morehouse, UF and the other participating institutions will reassess their involvement with their own societies in the same way that Dr. King took a stand against oppression of African Americans in the United States,” he said. “Even at the beginning of the 21st-century human kind is still butchering each other in tribal conflicts over economic materialism and resources.”
Although King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is well-known among college students, many are not familiar with the “World House” concept mentioned in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize speech and his writings where he discusses the need to fight racism, war and poverty, he said.
The topic of the April 4th 90-minute session was King’s challenge to citizens in “transcending tribe, race, class, nation and religion to embrace the vision of World House.” Speaker presentations as well as performances by artists, dancers and musicians were planned from each participating location, which, besides UF and Morehouse, included the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in India; Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya; and the U.S. Embassy in Johannesburg, South Africa. UF presenters from the Digital Worlds Institute’s Research, Education and Visualization Environment in 101 Norman Hall included Dr. Stephanie Evans, an African American studies and women’s studies professor, and drummer Mohamed DaCosta, a lecturer in UF’s College of Fine Arts School of Theatre and Dance. The 60-minute April 11 session featured UF social anthropologist Dr. Faye Harrison and poet Sharon Burney of UF’s African American Studies Program.
James Charles Oliverio