The University”s list of observances for Martin Luther King Day is the longest of any college or university in the country, offering students, faculty and staff a range of opportunities to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement and King”s life.
“I think the University of Michigan has the strongest commitment to diversity in the country,” said Damon Williams, program associate in the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. “I think there are other institutions that are doing tremendous things as well, but we are always trying to push the envelope and always trying to improve.”
As part of the free trip into the life and lessons of King, students have their choice of lecturers, symposiums and discussion topics to attend throughout the day.
The keynote lecture by Detroit native Dr. Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, as part of the of the “Honoring, Challenging and Living,” symposium is the biggest event planned for the day, Williams said. He expects anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 people from the University and surrounding communities to attend the lecture at 10 a.m. Monday in Hill Auditorium.
This is the 15th year of the symposium, which began in 1987, when the holiday was still controversial. Though legislation asking for a national MLK holiday was first introduced four days after King”s death in 1968, a bill was not passed by the U.S. Senate until 1983. The first holiday was observed in 1986.
The holiday was not celebrated by all 50 states until 1999, when New Hampshire passed legislation in favor of recognizing King”s work.
“The first reason (the symposium was started) is that the University, in all it”s greatness, wanted to recognize the contributions of a great man,” said Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs. “It was at the strong urging of students that it happened.”
The symposium started Jan. 14 and more than 65 MLK-related events will take place before its Feb. 28th closing. Besides the keynote lecture, parts of the symposium taking place on Monday include everything from a children”s program to a lecture by Christopher Paul Curtis, author of “The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963” and “Bud, Not Buddy.”
“The Watsons” is a based-on-real-life novel about a fictional black family from Flint during the civil rights movement, and is told through the eyes of a 10-year-old.
Several student organizations are sponsoring some of this year”s events, including Project SERVE, the Defend Affirmative Action Party and the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.
Project SERVE will be holding its annual MLK Day of Service, where volunteers choose to work in a variety of advocacy centers, as well as at senior citizen homes and homeless shelters. Students wanting to participate should arrive at the Chemistry Building by 12:30 p.m.
“Anyone can participate and we need more volunteers,” said LSA senior Megan Memmer, a member of Project SERVE.
Students can also join members of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority at 2 p.m. Monday at the Michigan Union (Room A) to make links for a peace chain. The chain will be created out of strips of construction paper, and participants can decorate their paper how they see fit.
Sigma Gamma Vice President Layla Black, an LSA sophomore, said she came up with the idea for the peace chain from a project she worked on in middle school. She added that the idea stuck with her and will hopefully stick around at the University.
“With all the stuff that”s happened in the past year, and with all the tension, I thought it would be something good for the University community,” Black said. “Hopefully, if we can, we”d like to make it a thing every year just to show that the university can come together for peace.”
At noon, there will be a DAAP-sponsored rally and march starting at the corner of South University and South Forest avenues.
“This year is really important. We”re building a new civil rights movement, and the cases are going to the Supreme Court. MLK day is going to be a chance for us not only to commemorate Martin Luther King but to act on his dream,” said LSA sophomore Agnes Aleobua, a member of DAAP.
Members of the Black Student Union said they do not have anything specific planned because honoring King is not a one-day event for them.
“We celebrate MLK day every day,” said BSU Treasurer Jarvis Williams, an LSA junior. “We do things in the name of MLK throughout the year.”
For more information about the 15th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium, and events, visit http://www.mlksymposium.org.