This year, Western Carolina University celebrated the impression Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made through its annual MLK, Jr. Commemoration.
Takeshia Brown, associate director of programs in the department of Intercultural Affairs, planned and coordinated the events for this year’s commemoration. According to Brown, the MLK, Jr. Commemoration is held every year in January around Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with the purpose of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his works.
“Essentially, it is an annual program that is put on at Western Carolina to celebrate the life, legacy, and dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, the dream of being an inclusive society where people are judged by the content of their character, and really that goes beyond the surface of making a deep connection with people,” said Brown.
Brown stated that the Department of Intercultural Affairs puts on programs every year to unite WCU’s campus and to continue the “mission of the dream.”
Brown said that one of the main purposes for the commemoration is to get students to take action.
“I think that was the main point of Dr. King’s dream,” Brown said.
She explained that they want to get students to realize what they are passionate about, what their dreams are and to get them to take the steps to make their dreams come true. They also aim to get students to recognize the problems in the world and act toward finding a solution to these conflicts, as well as getting students to do something as simple as committing “random acts of kindness.” This commemoration is aimed toward influencing the students at WCU to strive to make the world a better place.
As stated on the 2014 MLK Jr. Commemoration page on WCU’s website, the theme for the 2014 MLK Jr. Commemoration was “Beloved Community: Peace and Unity.”
Brown illuminated that the inspiration for this year’s theme comes from how Dr. King addressed global conflicts before his assassination. She further expanded that Dr. King’s focus on global aspects relates to the Department of Intercultural Affairs as well and how they do not center their focus on one area of diversity but focus on all areas of diversity.
According to the 2014 MLK Jr. Commemoration Schedule of Events, some of the events for the commemoration consisted of the annual MLK Jr. Prayer Breakfast Day of Service and the Day of Service Part 2, the MLK Jr. Unity March followed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday Reception, a reenactment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the MLK Jr. Open Mic Night, the MLK Jr. Film: “King: From Montgomery to Memphis Part 1” and the MLK Jr. Film: “King: From Montgomery to Memphis Part 2.”.
Another event that took place that was of great significance was the WCU MLK Jr. Keynote Speaker.
The speaker for this year’s commemoration was Dr. Melissa V. Harris-Perry. According to the WCU’s MLK Jr. Keynote Speaker page, Harris-Perry is the host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” as well as “founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South” at Tulane University where she is also “professor of political science” and who is author of the book Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale 2011) and the “award winning text” Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought (Princeton 2004) and is also “a columnist for The Nation magazine where she also writes a monthly column also titled Sister Citizen.”
The MLK Jr. Unity March, which was sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., was a spectacular event that gave the WCU community to unite and voice out Dr. King’s message. It started behind the A.K. Hinds University Center where the marchers met and then marched around campus behind a banner that read “Western Carolina University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March” held by sophomore Marquis Miller, junior Taylor Hancock, and senior Earl Rahming, who were members of Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc.
As they marched, the participants marched to phrases such as “Martin Luther King, he had a dream, and this is why we march and sing, to make his dream a reality,” and “What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!”
One of the marchers was WCU’s Chancellor David O. Belcher. When asked why he was there at the march, he replied, “I’m here because I believe in the fundamental principles behind Dr. Martin Luther King that we need to live in an inclusive society that gives everyone a chance to pursue the American Dream.” Belcher also informed that he and his wife have walked every year since they have been at WCU and that they “enjoy the camaraderie of the group.”
Sophomore Michaella Neal, who represented Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., was also asked why she was there.
She responded “Just to march for equality, march for the purpose of Martin Luther King. He always had a good message and it’s good that we express his message here on campus at Western Carolina.”
Sarah Carter, associate director of resource services in the department of Intercultural Affairs, was asked her thoughts on the event.
“This is the fourth time I’ve been to this event, and I think the students do an amazing job along with Intercultural Affairs, and working to put this event on.
The student support is just astounding every year in seeing them come together in showing that still need to be working towards diversity and that, and that spirit of volunteerism, and it’s just an amazing event to see grow,” Carter said.
Director of Intercultural Affairs, James Felton, offered his thoughts on the event as well as the commemoration.
“I think today as well as all the rest of the week’s events kind of reflect that mission of being able to hold hands, walk side-by-side, get away with the ills of the segregation,” said Felton.
Kayree Harris from Alpha Phi Alpha Inc. stated his favorite part about the event.
“My favorite part is actually the people. I just like to see that so many people come, and it’s not an extra credit thing, and even though there’s no classes, they still want to show up and really want to walk around campus. A lot of people wouldn’t want to do that,” said Harris.
The MLK Jr. Film “King: From Montgomery to Memphis Part 1,” presented by Professor Jack Sholder, presented a strong insight on Martin Luther King’s legacy as well. The film that was shown was from the 1970s and showed footage of Dr. King, his works and some of the events of that time like the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Senior Avery Surratt and Junior Candyce Norton offered their views of the film.
“I thought it was a very powerful representation of what happened,” said Surratt.
“I just thought it really showed the power of leadership in any kind of movement. It was really moving,” said Norton.
This year, WCU’s MLK Jr.’s Commemoration continued in its annual honoring of Dr. King and his message. Through this commemoration, the WCU community was exposed to the powerful lessons he implicated in his life. Students were taught the principles that Dr. King devoted his life to and honored this outstanding man and his outstanding works.