While it has been over half a century since Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated for championing the lives of Black Americans, his words still echo throughout the world, the country and this campus.
The third Monday in January is commemorated as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when people are encouraged to remember MLK’s dream that all people would have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as the country promised its citizens. President Bill Pink believes this is an important time to reflect on the country’s past as well as plan for the future.
“You have a day like MLK Day that looks at and celebrates the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” Pink said. “It’s important to do that from a perspective of recognizing the good work that was done but then also helping our generations and future generations, giving them that perspective as well. So that as they continue to one day become leaders of today, and hopefully they have studied and seen some of the what that legacy looks like in terms of Dr. King.”
Pink says he hopes future generations emulate the legacy of a man who insisted on spreading his message, no matter how much the country challenged him. He related MLK’s struggle for equality to university founders Woodbridge and Helen Ferris when they first opened the Big Rapids Industrial School with the idea that everyone deserved an education.
“You think about Woodbridge and Helen Ferris,” Pink said. “It could not have been easy in the late 1800s and early 1900s for them to be in this area, preaching the message of everyone in the state of Michigan deserves an education. It didn’t matter what color you were, didn’t matter what your gender was.”
Woodbridge is remembered for his undying plea for “education for all children, all men and all women of Michigan, all the people in all our states all the time.”
Assistant Director of the Office of Multicultural Student Services Darnell Lewis says MLK remains a legend for advocating in a world that actively rooted against him.
“He stood up for what was right, no matter what the world was,” Lewis said. “No matter how many obstacles he had to face, he still persevered and made such an impact that we are able to benefit from everything he did back in the day.”
One direct benefit from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech was its influence on Congress to speed up the process of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin and forbade the same discrimination in hiring, promoting and firing processes.
Lewis says that MLK Day is an opportunity for everyone to come together and commemorate the life and legacy of a historic figure in the civil rights movement. The OMSS observed the holiday with several special events that will be featured in future Torch coverage.
“We have the march, a keynote speaker and the student tribute,” Lewis said. “We’ve been doing this for about 37 years. We always start early [for planning], usually the semester before locating the keynote speaker and developing the theme… This year, we wanted someone young that our students can relate to and inspire them to be advocates, be committed to social justice and inspire them to take action now.”
Ferris’ MLK Day events allow students and faculty to put MLK’s words and dreams into action while continuing to be advocates for social justice.
Marketing freshman Ashley Jordan, who participated in planning and organizing the activities, says they are planned ahead of time and often met with great turnout.
“With the march, even though we will never really fully understand how it was and what marching actually meant back then, I feel like we feel that [drive] a little bit,” Jordan said. “Some people will say, ‘Oh, no, it’s too cold outside [to march],’ but back then that wasn’t an option. Whether it was cold, hot or snowing, no matter what the weather was, we were going out here to fight for our rights. We’re fighting for each other, fighting for equality. I feel like marching is a good way to commemorate that.”
Jordan says she has found MLK to be very inspirational; she’s even had the opportunity to perform one of his speeches entitled “Blueprint.” She says he has done so much in social justice, and that it has opened the door for other people to do great things.
While MLK day may be over, Pink asks students to participate, engage and listen in on discussions inspired by MLK.
“I have a strong message for the students, the encouragement to participate,” Pink said. “Engage in some of the discussions, listen to and give feedback to, but also be able to engage in the dialogue. Way too often we want to start at our uncommon ground. We want to just go on to the things we disagree on, and we end up fighting about it. You’re arguing with each other. We see the example many times in Washington D.C. We see it in our political arenas. We see it in our public arenas where people argue and fuss and fight because they start where they disagree… Engage in the dialogue. Be individuals who want to find common ground with each other, especially people who may come from different backgrounds and who you may not agree with everything.”
For articles on the OMSS’ MLK events, including the march and keynote speech by activist and attorney Martese Johnson, read next week’s issue of the Torch.