This year’s annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium will, for the first time, be completely on the shoulders of students
The symposium, which opens on Monday, has been taking place at the University since 1987. Previously, it had been largely organized and run by University staff.
Past years’ celebrations have been undercut by student indifference toward Martin Luther King Day, organizers say. As the holiday forms a three-day weekend, many students use that opportunity to go home, or simply take the day off school.
“Unfortunately, to a lot of people that is just what it is (a day students get to go home). As much as we can do to educate people about what’s going to be out there, to some it’s still just a day off,” said LSA freshman Jasmine Floyd.
Silvia Carranza from the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives said this year’s greater student participation aims to correct that, getting students involved right from the planning stages.
“The reality of MLK day is that it’s a day off for students. But the reason it’s a day off is so that people can attend (the events),” Carranza said. “There are 22 events taking place on MLK day alone. It’s not just for the benefit of staff — we want to make it more enticing for students to be able to take part in it.”
Over the past three years, students have taken increasingly involved roles in planning the theme and events to celebrate King’s life and philosophy. This year is “for students, by students,” Carranza said.
The symposium’s opening event, “A Tribute to a King,” is a free showcase performance at the Mendelssohn Theatre planned by students. The show will feature various student groups commemorating King through spoken word, dance and drama.
“We put the show together, we contact different groups and we advertise for it,” Alicia Benavides, an LSA sophomore and student staff member for the symposium said. She is one of five students in charge of planning the month-long celebration
Each year the planners of the symposium address a different angle of King’s life and work. This year the planning committee settled on the theme “The Simple Art of Living Together,” inspired by a quote taken from one of King’s sermons.
“We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together like brothers,” King said in the 1961 sermon.
This year’s symposium will highlight some of King’s ideas that often take a backseat to his groundbreaking work with civil rights.
“People are definitely used to hearing about his ideas on civil rights issues,” Carranza said. The planning committee wanted to choose a theme that would explore “sides of Dr. Martin Luther King that people weren’t so used to hearing about,” she said.
Such ideas include King’s Poor People’s Campaign, which was to be the beginning of King’s crusade on class issues. The campaign, which King planned shortly before his death in 1968, was launched by his followers after his assassination but failed to gain momentum in the absence of his leadership.
The symposium will also explore King’s Christian theologies, his work to open dialogue about social issues and his ideas on peaceful protest.
“Everything King did was rooted in the Christian philosophy that he held so dear to his heart,” Carranza said, adding that King’s ability to initiate a national conversation on civil rights can serve as a model to rectify the current polarization in American public opinion.
The symposium consists of over 90 events addressing these topics, ranging from one-hour lectures to week-long exhibits.
The three main events sponsored by the symposium’s planning committee are the opening performance on Monday, a memorial lecture given by former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and a closing lecture given by black activist and author Walter Mosley.
Other events include lectures, photography exhibits, interactive museums and musical dramatic performances.