by GRACE WAGNER
On Jan. 24, civil rights activist Tylik McMillan spoke at UMW for the 2024 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. McMillan discussed modern-day social justice and King’s legacy.
In his speech, McMillan encouraged the audience to take action for the things that they are passionate about.
“You’ve got to know what you specialize in and become an expert in what that is,” said McMillan. “Then, from there, use your influence to be able to inspire folks, to become educated on those issues, understanding we all have influence in some shape, way or form.”
McMillan said that it is essential that people continue to fight for what they believe in and not get comfortable sitting by and doing nothing.
“My greatest challenge is folks getting comfortable,” he said.
“The fight for social justice is not a passive endeavor,” he continued. “It is an active, ongoing commitment, and that commitment is a collective commitment.”
McMillan discussed King’s dream and how important it is to continue the fight for social justice and equity to make that dream a reality.
“Let us also recommit ourselves to dare to dream, to dare to move, to dare to stand up, to dare to be unapologetic in this fight for the world that works for us all,” said McMillan.
Many audience members talked with McMillan after his speech.
Devin Schwers, a senior political science major, commented on McMillan’s approachability, highlighting that McMillan’s similar age makes him easier to connect with.
“He’s a young guy—he talks like us like we talk to our peers,” said Schwers. “That helps you engage, and you get a different connection when you’re listening to somebody who you feel is a part of your culture, your generation.”
Others shared a similar impression, noting how they felt after McMillan’s speech.
“I just thought that he was really inspirational,” said Amber Villalobos, a sophomore biomedical science major.
For some, McMillan’s words even changed their approach to activism.
“The main viewpoint that it changed in me is definitely his ‘stand on business’ mindset,” said Mohammad Ali Hassan, a freshman biomedical sciences major. “It encouraged me to want to be more active in organizations that I feel passionate towards.”
McMillan stressed that everyone needs to do their part and become more engaged in social justice and activism. He reminded the audience that there is no one way to be an activist.
“There is not a certain look to what activism looks like. Each one of you are activists in your own right,” he said.
In his speech, McMillan challenged the audience to become more involved in their communities and their passions.
“I challenge you to get involved in local organizations and get involved in community organizations that are dear to your heart,” he said. “Find what your passion is.”
He continued, “I challenge you today to embrace your dreams with some courage and some determination. Risk it all for the vision that only you can break free from the constraints of doubt and the constraints of fear.”
McMillan also asked students to seek opportunities outside of their standard routine as a way to become a part of change.
He said, “I came today to challenge you. To challenge you in your own comfort. To feel the fire of what moves us to be able to do more. To be more selfless in our lives and to dream like the dreamers of a world that we have yet to see.”
Students suggested ways that they could take McMillan’s advice seriously.
“Joining student-led organizations and clubs that actively protest injustices is really important,” said Hassan. “The ‘Students for Justice in Palestine’ is a great club that actively protests the genocide in Palestine and calls for an immediate ceasefire as well as a call to action from people like President Paino.”
McMillan also spoke about his recent dinner with several members of the King family, offering insight into King’s legacy through their message to the Mary Washington community.
“I mentioned to the King family that I was speaking at two universities, and particularly I said I was coming here,” said McMillan. “They wanted me to send their warmest regards and to remind you to keep the dream alive.”
To conclude his speech, McMillan left the audience with a message: “The work starts with you, it really does start with you,” he said.