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14-01_mlk_speakerReverend Irene Monroe talked with students about the rewards and challenges of developing a diverse community as the 2014 Martin Luther King speaker. Rev. Monroe is a pastor and syndicated religion columnist. Her writing focuses on how religious intolerance and fundamentalism perpetuate other forms of oppression, like racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.

Rev. Monroe told students how, as an applicant to black seminary schools and as a new pastor in a black church, she faced prejudice because of her identity as a gay woman. She realized that she had to find ways to live comfortably with her multiple identities, and that she wanted to help others feel comfortable with theirs.

“We may speak up about certain oppressions, but not others. That silence makes us willing or unwilling participants in prejudice,” she says. “This is the hierarchy of oppression. If we only concentrate on race, then we ignore other issues, like gender or sexual identity. You can’t heal the world of its ‘isms if you can’t heal the ‘isms in yourself.”

Before her presentation, Rev. Monroe quoted Dr. King, sharing ideas for students’ reflection, and reaction: “The revolution for human rights is opening up unhealthy areas in American life and permitting a new and wholesome healing to take place. Eventually the civil rights movement will have contributed infinitely more to the nation than the eradication of racial injustice.” Rev. Monroe believes this quotation reflects the wide-ranging effects of the justice for which Dr. King fought.

A Brooklyn, New York, native, Rev. Monroe is a graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. She served as a pastor at an African-American church before attending Harvard Divinity School as a Ford Fellow for her doctorate. She lives in Cambridge. A Huffington Post blogger and religion columnist, Rev. Monroe’s columns appear in 43 cities across the country and in the U.K.