In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., we’re reflecting on how his history of championing racial equity inspires us today. We continue to invest in our ongoing partnership with ICON360 through “Closing the Gap,” an initiative aimed at strengthening educational opportunities for the next generation of Black fashion leaders at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). We turn to BJ Arnett, Professor of Fashion Merchandising at Clark Atlanta University, to share her thoughts on how Doctor King’s powerful example lives on.
Q: How do you personally remember Martin Luther King Jr.?
A: When I came to Atlanta at seventeen-years-old, I entered scholarship pageants to help pay for school. Corretta Scott King was at many of the events I attended. She was regal in the way she moved, precise in the way she spoke, and she was always honoring her husband. I began to think about where this husband, father, man of God walked in Atlanta. So, I found myself going to the King Center just to walk where I thought Martin Luther King might have walked. To stand in the church I knew he stood in. Many years later I got the opportunity to meet all his children—personally hear from Yolanda and Dexter how their dad impacted their lives. It was very clear that, for this man of God, his calling made him a great husband, father, and fighter. My husband and I always talk about the fact that we stand on the shoulders of greatness.
Q: King invested in others. How are you, through the “Closing the Gap” initiative, nurturing the dreams of your students?
A: It is no secret that I believe in the concept of my students being able to stand on my shoulders to reach the next level of spiritual and academic greatness, and subsequently greatness in their lives. My students tell me their dreams and I strategize ways to help them, because with character and integrity their dreams can become reality. I simply tell them to do the work, you can do it, you are called to do it because someone must stand on your shoulders and it's your responsibility to help those who follow you.
Q: What are some examples of how your students are looking to achieve their dreams?
A: Our students come into CAU Art and Fashion Department with a dream, we give them a course of study that allows them to see how their dream can become a reality. We connect them with fashion industry professionals that they can mirror and host networking events that introduce them to various positions and entrepreneurial ventures they can jump into. Towards their last term we support the development of their portfolios, shaping examples of their work from the four years of their matriculation at CAU.
Q: As the fashion industry strives for greater inclusivity, how is your program setting students up for success outside of the classroom?
A: We educate our students on the fashion industry and its standards before they graduate. Our students are also put into real life situations, so they have a chance to swim with a lifeguard called professor. We offer them the chance to meet and connect with industry leaders of all shapes, colors, and sizes so that the HBCU experience is not exclusive but inclusive. Our students are taught to understand that they are walking into a big world that they have the opportunity to lead in.
Gap Inc. is participating in virtual events in honor of Dr. King. Here are some virtual observances sponsored by the King Center that allow you to safely commemorate Dr. King.