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Filmmaker Shakti Butler delivers speech about MLK, Malcolm X, and finding your "inner self"

Filmmaker and educator Shakti Butler speaks at Plachta Auditorium Jan. 22. in Warriner Hall.

Filmmaker and educator Shakti Butler delivered a speech at Central Michigan University about her journey of self-reflection, as well as the contrasting influences of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Her speech, "The Light of Love, Power, and Resistance" was part of the university's annual Martin Luther King Jr. day celebration on Jan. 22 in Warriner Hall's Plachta Auditorium.

Butler directed documentaries such as "Healing Justice" and served as a diversity consultant and adviser on the Disney film "Zootopia."

During her speech, Butler provided insight on the popularity of King and Malcolm X and their enduring impact from her childhood into adulthood.

“To them, (Martin Luther King Jr.) was a one-word name – a title, evenly intoned. Such breathless respect that people barely took the time to pronounce his name fully,” Butler said. 

Malcolm X spoke on a street corner in Harlem, near where Butler lived. She said his speeches had a profound impact on her and motivated her to take action. She participated in Black Solidarity Day in Manhattan.

“When a speaker has a history with stuff like that, it hits a lot differently than just someone giving a presentation,” Chicago senior Lorenzo Aleman said.

Watching 250,000 protestors on television led by King, Butler wasn’t sure if she had the bravery to sustain the beatings non-violent protestors went through. From there, she began a personal journey of discovering herself, partly through meditation and further research.

“I established the practice of meditation, and I began to have experiences that I never thought I would have,” Butler said. “Those experiences pointed me inside to develop my inner strength, to be able to work through the things that were challenging in my life and to develop my courage.”

Her self-reflective journey allowed her to understand the enduring popularity and complexity Martin Luther King Jr. wielded and led her to where she was today.

“The most important thing that we can do for today is to think for ourselves…but to move collectively," Butler said. "At the end of the day, we really don’t have a lot of choices but to research what does it mean to live in peace."

Butler's words resonated with attendees like Grand Rapids senior Marcel Jacobs, who found the concepts of intersectionality and integration "profound."

“Being able to understand that people share that idea (of love) with me as well reinforced it for me and pushes me to show more people that love,” Jacobs said.

Butler ended her speech with a metaphor, referencing a story about a whale trapped in netting within the San Francisco Bay.  Divers had to cut the whale free, and they percieved the whale to be seemingly thankful.

“I feel like, collectively speaking, we are both the whale and the divers," Butler said. "We are trapped in these ropes… that are not good for us, but we need each other to become free."