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Colleges and Universities Commemorate King Holiday

Across the nation, institutions of higher education are presenting events to celebrate the life and legacy of civil rights legend Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. before, on and after Monday’s national holiday.

King, born 90 years ago this week in Atlanta, was assassinated April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers. By the time of his death at age 39, he was globally renowned as the most powerful voice of the Civil Rights Movement.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the March on Washington in 1963Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the March on Washington in 1963

Every year, thousands of events are held across the nation and abroad to honor King’s legacy and to promote the ideals he espoused: service, social and economic justice, civil and human rights and racial equality. With commemorative events stretching into February, Black History Month, the King holiday has become more a season than a day.

Activities are planned starting Saturday across the City University of New York system on and off campuses. The City College of New York and Guttman Community College have organized a service day Saturday at East Harlem Scholars Academy II, and the Dance Theater of Harlem will be featured in a commemoration Sunday afternoon at Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts. Slated for Monday are Medgar Evers College’s all-day tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Hoston Community College’s student volunteer day.

“We strive to express Dr. King’s ideals through our mission of serving students from all backgrounds, and we join the nation in honoring his legacy,” said CUNY interim chancellor Dr. Vita C. Rabinowitz. “One of the memorable and moving events in CUNY history was Dr. King’s 1963 commencement address at City College, which he delivered just hours after the assassination of Medgar Evers in Mississippi. His words that day ring true more than half a century later. Now more than ever, our university endeavors to help ‘transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.’”

King’s niece, former college professor and Georgia legislator Dr. Alveda King, will speak Saturday evening at a celebration at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. “Building the Beloved Community: Love Is the Only Way” is the theme of the event at the Polsky Theatre.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., who worked alongside King in the movement, will be the featured speaker at Shaw University’s annual celebration Thursday morning at the C.C. Spaulding Gymnasium.

The United Negro College Fund (UNCF) is commemorating the holiday with scholarship fundraisers in cities across the nation, including Detroit, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

UNCF Washington and the Washington Inter-Alumni Council are hosting the 36th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration from 8:30 to noon at the University of Maryland. The keynote speaker is Rev. Dr. Delman L. Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland. Ashlei N. Stevens of TV One’s “Fatal Attraction” will emcee the event and moderate a panel discussion featuring Dr. Aminta Breaux, president of Bowie State University, and Dr. Charlene Dukes, president of Prince George’s Community College. Admission is $75.

“Remembering His Life, Renewing His Legacy” is the theme of Monday’s MLK celebration at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It’s 3-5 p.m. in the University Memorial Center ballroom and includes a reception, conversations and a community celebration planned by the university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement, St. Aiden’s Episcopal Church and other groups.

Tufts University celebrates Tuesday evening with an event at Breed Memorial Hall themed “A Single Garment of Destiny: Stories of Resilience and Hope.” It begins with students sharing stories of resilience and hope centered around King’s references to those themes in a 1964 speech at the Methodist Student Leadership Conference. Following a light dinner will be a conversation with Tufts alumnae Dr. Christina Greer, associate professor of political science and American studies at Fordham University, and Zerlina Maxwell. director of progressive programming for SiriusXM.

On Jan. 28 at Denison University, following a morning of organized service activities, noted historian and civil rights activist Dr. Mary Frances Berry will deliver the keynote address at 1:30 at a collegewide convocation featuring student performances.

Berry, a University of Pennsylvania history professor and prolific author, will also sign books at 2:30, followed by nearly a dozen concurrent workshops relevant to King’s life and work facilitated by students, staff, faculty and community members.

Other schools have planned multiple days of events.

At Goshen College in Indiana, where King visited in March 1960, the school’s annual celebration this weekend is presented in partnership with College Mennonite Church. It opened Wednesday with a convocation in the church chapel at which president Dr. Rebecca Stoltzfus spoke and gave an update on the work of a diversity, equity and inclusion task force.

Goshen’s celebration, titled “King: The Man, The Motive, The Movement,” picks up Sunday morning at the chapel with a sermon by Dr. LaKendra Hardware and student coffeehouse performances that evening at the Sauder Concert Hall. Monday’s activities include a morning convocation, afternoon breakout sessions and an evening candlelight vigil on Schrock Plaza.

At Morehouse College, King’s undergraduate alma mater, events begin Saturday morning with “Messengers of Freedom: Torah Study and Shabbat Service” at the Martin Luther King, Jr. International Chapel featuring Rabbi Bradley Levenberg, associate rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs, Ga., and Dr. Harold Bennett, dean of Charles H. Mason Theological Seminary.

Morehouse’s commemorations extend through Jan. 31 with a range of activities, including the opening of a retrospective exhibition of King documents at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; an interfaith peace assembly and candlelight vigil; two film screenings; a day of service activities across the city and a talk by Princeton University religion and African American studies professor Dr. Eddie Glaude.

Florida International University’s 28th annual commemoration includes multiple activities that start Friday with a breakfast and end Feb. 1 with an “Evening with McKnight Fellows” at the school’s Graham Center. Between are a day of service, a youth forum and a King exhibition opening reception at FIU’s Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum.

Clark University is among schools that held commemorations prior to the holiday, with a Thursday evening performance lecture by Emmy-winning actor and diversity trainer Ron Jones. Members of the campus community and public gathered in Daniels Theater for Jones’ performance, titled “Martin Luther King Jr. and the Strength of Shared Dreams,” followed by a question-answer session.

King’s dream of “intersectional advocacy” is relevant to higher education and efforts to understand the complexities of advancing inclusive education, said Sheree M. Marlowe Ohen, Clark’s chief officer for diversity and inclusion.

“We have students that are striving for equitable access to higher education and an inclusive campus environment based on multiple factors from a historical and contemporary lens, looking at racially minoritized communities, first-generation students, socioeconomic barriers, gender identity, individuals with disabilities, religious minorities, etc. and the intersections that exist among these populations,” said Ohen. “We have a shared dream in higher education to foster equitable, inclusive environments that celebrate our campus diversity while advancing the educational mission of the institution.”

LaMont Jones can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones

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