Northwestern University kicked off a 10-day celebration and commemoration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. with a day of service and a candlelight vigil on Monday. Northwestern students, faculty and staff from various campus groups and affiliations participated in the events. Monday’s programming highlighted the importance of Dr. King’s message that those who have the privilege to choose their paths in life should continuously seek ways to fight injustice everywhere.
The celebrations of Dr. King’s life on Northwestern’s campus followed after previous Fall Quarter's demonstrations of dissatisfaction and outrage at the way the university and its administration allows for racism and discrimination to be a part of everyday campus life.
“I feel like the University has been very cooperative in planning programming to commemorate Dr. King,” SESP junior Damilola Arowolaju said. “I sat on the Martin Luther King Commemoration committee, and the administration was cooperative in terms of adding our input and in advertising.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, which was first observed on the third Monday of January in 1986, is an American holiday that celebrates Dr. King’s birth. Northwestern first made the day a university-recognized holiday for students, faculty and staff in January 2013. Monday’s day of service event began with a message from the executive director of Curt's Cafe, Susan Trieschmann. The organization provides job experiences for at-risk youth in Evanston, and Trieschmann encouraged attendees of the MLK day of service to think about how injustice arises as a result of systematic flaws.
“Learn your facts and become an expert on what you’re passionate about, [and] teach others, like Martin Luther King did,” Treischmann finished. “You are our future.”
“To hear from someone with the idea of Curt’s Cafe, from someone who is trying to address the structural challenges of inequality in our country was very powerful,” Executive Director of Northwestern Hillel Michael Simon said. Simon said that he and the rest of Hillel’s staff participated in the day of service because it is an important way to encourage ongoing mindfulness about the injustices on campus and in the community at large.
Participants in the day of service volunteered at various sites throughout Evanston and Chicago. Some of these sites included Evanston Public Library, the Evanston Symphony Orchestra and Cornerstone Community Outreach. Service work was followed with debriefing and reflection of each service site and on the day as a whole.
The candlelight vigil Monday evening was presented by the Alpha Mu Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, the first African-American, intercollegiate Greek-lettered fraternity with a rich history tied to the Civil Rights Movement, and the Martin Luther King Commemoration Committee at the Alice Millar Chapel. The vigil included an invocation from Associate Chaplain Tahera Ahmad, a keynote address from Dr. Nicholas Pearce, a Kellogg professor and assistant pastor at Apostolic Church of God Chicago and musical selections performed by Northwestern Community Ensemble and Soul4Real.
Pearce said that the best way to honor Dr. King and his legacy is to use his work as a wake up call to stop living in the mundane routines of life and to start figuring out how to make a lasting impact.
“This involves what I call building vocational courage. This is more than pure ambition. This is more than having the grit to go to class when it’s two below zero. This is more than pure intellectual horsepower. This about figuring out what your life’s work is, and about having the commitment to make the courageous decisions that allow you to live it out,” Pearce said.
McCormick junior and member of Alpha Phi Alpha, as well as the MLK Commemoration Committee, Deion Foster said he hopes attendees of the vigil took away not only a reminder of the legacy left by Dr. King, but of the legacies that each person in the crowd could make today.
Arowolaju agreed with his fellow fraternity member. He added that he hopes attendees remember the path that Dr. King paved for the modern Black Lives Matter movement, saying that “today is about paying homage to those who came before us and about understanding our past and how it affects our future.”
Weinberg senior Kylia Williams said that she would hope that Northwestern students are mindful of their obligation to give back to society not just today, but always. Although Williams did not help plan the vigil, she is a member of Soul4Real, one of the musical groups that performed during the ceremony.
“To be completely honest, I think that most students were probably catching up on homework today,” Williams said.
Further programming to commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. will include a talkgiven by Justice Edwin Cameron about South Africa’s transition to democracy on Wednesday, January 20 and a keynotegiven by civil rights activist Diane Nash on Monday, January 25.
Reporting contributed by Lila Reynolds, North by Northwestern.