Festivities celebrate civil rights leader

Activities to commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. created an added buzz as students headed back to classes on the University of Miami campus.

The opening ceremony for the MLK festivities was held Wednesday at the Rock. The celebration is a two-week-long event hosted by the United Black Students organization in conjunction with Multicultural Student Affairs.

The ceremony began with the black national anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” sung by UM’s own International Concert Choir. The performance was followed by speeches from representatives from the Indian Students Association, Yellow Rose Society and UBS MLK week committee.

“The speeches celebrate the legacy of Dr. King by showing the message of diversity that he tried to convey,” Gabrielle Berthelot, MLK committee chair, said.

Each of the speeches centered on a theme of equality inspired by King’s words.

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality,” King said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

One of the speech topics addressed King’s international relations and with Mahatma Gandhi. King was inspired by Gandhi’s passive resistance and non-violent methods towards the British in India.

Another topic highlighted King’s support of women’s participation in the civil rights movement. Prominent women that participated in the movement were Rosa Parks, Dorothy Height and Annie Devine.

The last speech topic presented was the black church connection to the civil rights movement.

The program also included a cake cutting and ended with an inspirational dance performance by Chosen, a student dance group.

MLK committee member Reggie Saint-Hilaire said that the opening ceremony illustrated aspects of King’s life and work.

“Speeches were his form of communication, and the choir and dance represented his relation to the church,” Saint-Hilaire said.

The MLK celebration committee members said they believed that the event was a huge success.

“The turnout was pretty good,” Saint-Hilaire said. “The chairs were pretty full and the people at the surrounding tables were interested in what we had to say.”

Students that attended the event left feeling they had gained a deeper understanding of King and his work.

“I thought this was a celebration and learning experience all in one,” Breyana Penn, junior, said. “I enjoyed the praise dancing and learned other aspects about Dr. King.”

Staff and faculty members such as Edmund Abaka, director of the Africana studies department, and Steven Clark, director of multicultural student affairs, attended the ceremony to show their support.

“The students worked extremely hard the last few months to make Dr. King’s dream a reality on campus,” Clark said. “I’m very proud of all the student leaders that were involved in the planning of the scheduled activities.”

Clark described the opening ceremonies as a time for reflection and an opportunity for the UM community to celebrate a great humanitarian.

Other events scheduled as part of the MLK celebration included the fourth annual MLK breakfast, the “Family Affair BBQ” and MLK day of service.

Khris Parker can be contacted at k.parker1@umiami.edu.