A discussion about the role multicultural communities play in projects that involve the University and the local community on Friday was the first event on the calendar for this year’s 16th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium.

The discussion, titled “Reflecting on multiculturalism and community collaborations,” took place at the International Institute and focused on the challenges and benefits of working with diverse communities.

Silvia Carranza, program associate for the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives – and a member of the planning committee for the symposium – said the discussion’s topic fit in perfectly with the goals of this year’s symposium.

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world,” is the symposium’s theme, a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India’s independence movement. Carranza said they wanted to emphasize the significant contributions that individuals can make.

Carranza said while making that change often involves individuals looking internally and in the areas closest to them, it also involves working with people outside of their own communities.

“Communities sometimes get focused on themselves and don’t realize that it pays to work with one another just to get a different perspective and also to discover similarities with one another,” she said.

The participants of the discussion talked about a range of topics, from the definition of multiculturalism to their experiences in working with diverse communities in their own projects. Some of the difficulties that were described included tensions between different ethnic communities and following through once multicultural projects have been initiated.

The discussion was sponsored by the Arts of Citizenship Program, which explores how the University’s arts and humanities departments can contribute to the public through different projects and initiatives in conjunction with the local community. They hold monthly discussions so that project leaders can commiserate and form partnerships.

The symposium will take place this month and next month at the University to celebrate the life and teachings of King through a series of programs and initiatives facilitated by academic departments and student groups throughout the University. Programs will focus on diversity and current social issues.

Today’s lecture on cultural diversity by Ronald Takaki, the author of “Strangers from a Different Shore,” commences the MLK symposium. Upcoming events include a speech by cultural critic, author and feminist theorist bell hooks and a keynote speech by activist and writer Grace Lee Boggs.

Karis Crawford, program associate for the Arts of Citizenship Program, said while their discussions have always brought together different facets of the University and the Ann Arbor community, Friday’s event involved an especially diverse group.

“This is the kind of boundary-crossing that we’re trying to do,” said David Scobey, director of the Arts of Citizenship Program.

Crawford said those involved with the program have always had to work with diverse communities.

“We never start out saying, how can we make this multicultural, we just do it,” she said about their projects.

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