By Jim Carrier
Had he lived, Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 89 years of age on Monday, January 15, 2018. His birthday is a federal holiday, originally approved by Congress and signed into law by a reluctant President Reagan in 1983. Only in 2000, when South Carolina finally approved the holiday, was King’s birthday observed in all 50 states.
Fifty years after his assassination, King’s legacy is both remarkable and incomplete. The past year, 2017, was filled with painful reminders that King’s goal of racial harmony remains a work in progress.
College campuses, where debates, demonstrations, and violence erupted over issues of racism, diversity and freedom of speech, are hosting dozens of MLK programs. Here is a sampling:
Yale University’s homage to King is “Chaos or Community: Fifty Years Later, Where Do We Go From Here?” With speeches, exhibits, and a “love march,” the school’s emphasis is on activism. Keynote speaker is Bree Newsome, an artist and activist famous for climbing the flagpole at the South Carolina flagpole and removing the Confederate battle flag after the murder of nine black members of a Charleston church. Her action led, ultimately, to official removal of the flag, and became “a symbol of courage, resistance and empowerment of women.”
At the University of Tennessee, the focus is on student volunteers in Knoxville. Last year 400 students observed MLK Day by donating time to projects such as Keep Knoxville Beautiful, Reanimation Coalition, Water Angel Ministries and other organizations. “The most successful projects connect to the life and teaching of Dr. King, meet a pressing community need, and include time to reflect on his teachings,” said Natalie Frankel of the school’s Center for Leadership and Service.
“Dream Even Further” is the theme of MLK Day events at the University of Texas in Austin. Rallying at the MLK Jr. campus statue, participants will march to the state capitol. Past celebrations have drawn 15,000 people.
In Chapel Hill, NC, the University of North Carolina hosts events that range from a candlelight vigil to cross-cultural dialogue. The theme is “Voices. Power. Movement.”
W. Kamau Bell, the sociopolitical comedian and host of CNN’s “United Shades of America” will keynote an awards breakfast at Indiana University in Bloomington. The event recognizes students, faculty, staff and members of the community with “Building Bridges Awards.”
For the 27th year, Arizona State University leads a “March on West” that recreates MLK Jr.’s famous 1963 March on Washington. Hundreds of middle school students march, carrying placards. The march climaxes with a re-creation of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, by Charles St. Clair, an Emmy-award director and faculty members.
In Kalamazoo, Michigan, a day-long “teach-in” at Western Michigan University will focus on a wide-range of issues that King preached, including environmental justice, health care, gun violence, women empowerment, and nonviolence. At the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the focus will be on gentrification in Detroit.
Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Director of Outreach, will speak Monday on MLK’s contemporary relevance at Monmouth (Illinois) College’s MLK Day convocation and teach-in. On Jan 20, Brooks will deliver an MLK commemorate lecture at the Newark, N.J. public library entitled: “Nonviolent Peaceful Protest in the Tradition of Dr. King: Still the Way to Counter Hate and Extremism.”