In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy, a candlelight vigil was held in the Alice Millar Chapel on Monday night.
Hosted by the Alpha Mu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha at Northwestern and the University’s MLK Day Planning Committee, the 35th annual vigil began with a hymn, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” performed from the Northwestern Community Ensemble, followed by a short prayer and invocation delivered by associate chaplain Jacquelina Marquez, and a spiritual and gospel song performed by Soul4Real, an African-American a cappella group at Northwestern.
Carol Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the Senate, delivered the night’s keynote address. She emphasized the importance of individual actions in changing the status quo.
“The Civil Rights Movement is something we can all take pride in,” she said, “because it reflected the very best of America. It drew on the very best of human emotion and it made us all better people. It gave our country the impetus to live up to its cherished ideals of liberty and equality, of citizenship and democracy.”
She continued, “It called on each individual to take personal responsibility for defeating the forces of racism and hate.”
“[Dr. King] did not do it alone,” Braun said. “It was ordinary people who collectively formed the movement ... Our reality today is the legacy of ordinary people who chose to stand up for freedom. On nights like this, we remember the giants. But it was the little people who leveraged their power to change the world.”
Braun also touched upon the recent attacks against the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which left 12 people dead.
She likened the response, proclamations of solidarity through the phrase “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” to the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, “We shall overcome.”
“It stands for defeating terrorism not in the spirit of revenge, or anti-Islam, or anti-Semitism, but with non-violence, and unity, and brotherhood,” she said. “Tonight, we dedicate ourselves to the continuing struggle against pain and suffering, in the unshaken faith that the present we create will be better than the past we cannot change.”
Braun urged those in attendance to continue the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.
“We renew our strength to thrive and grow in understanding and love. Je Suis King and Mandela and Malala,” Braun said. “Je Suis Occupy and Black Lives Matter and Doctors without Borders. Je Suis all of those who sacrifice their own comfort on behalf of us all.”
She reminded the audience that it is an individual responsibility to change the “climate of opinions” in the existing social order.
“Whether our society will glorify violence and greed, or community and compassion will in large part be dictated by popular opinion, and popular opinion starts with you,” she said. “Whether our planet will be ravaged by human inertia or redeemed by human genius will grow out of popular opinion, and that starts with you.”
Braun addressed the importance of tolerance, saying, “We will begin the conversation that the Golden Rule is a universal one, and no distinction between Muslim and Jew, Christian and atheist, Hindu or Buddhist, will be allowed to divide humanity.”
She ended her address by once again emphasizing the importance of individual actions.
“Your actions will make things better or not, for many more people than you will ever know. Your choices do matter,” she said. “I am Dr. King. You are Dr. King. We are all Dr. King.”
Following Braun’s address, the candle-lighting ceremony began and was followed by an emotional reading of excerpts from Dr. King’s powerful and moving Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Alpha Phi Alpha member Joshua Wright.
The candlelight vigil was concluded by a brief address from University Chaplain Timothy Stevens, who reminded the audience of the spirituality and unity infused in the Civil Rights Movement, allowing people of all faiths to work together for a common goal of justice and kindness.
“Tonight, let us rededicate ourselves," he said. "Ours lips, our hands, our feet, to this spiritual cause of justice and equality."