By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the annual MLK Study Day at Goshen College.
A day reserved for celebrating the life and legacy of famed human rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the college’s MLK Study Day has evolved over the years from a single day of remembrance to an annual catalyst in the continued examination and exploration of who the man was, what he cared about, who he has influenced and how those individuals and groups are currently working to change the world for the better.
“More and more in this country, I think there is a growing emphasis on the resonance of the message, not just the specific day... an exploration of how his message can have a greater, lasting impact,” said GC Director of Public Relations Richard Aguirre. “For a lot of our students, they’ve grown up with that message, so I think the evolution of MLK Day at GC is both societal, and also has to do with the resonance of Martin Luther King Jr. with the Mennonite faith, and incorporating his life and legacy as a teaching opportunity and incorporating that into what students are encountering in college and how the whole commemoration can have more meaning than just that one day.”
As an example, Aguirre noted how the college decided to get a jump-start on its MLK Day events this year by hosting a full-length screening of the documentary “A Hole in the Head: A Life Revealed” by filmmaker Dr. Wilbert Smith on both Tuesday and Sunday. Smith, one of two keynote speakers headlining MLK Day this year, was also introduced to the public early during a special conversation with the community on health care and race at the college’s Umble Center Sunday evening.
Joining Smith as a keynote speaker this year is author Dana Johnson, whose original work exploring themes of race, identity and alienation were also showcased early this year during a special reading at the college’s Newcomer Center Saturday evening.
Smith and Johnson are just the latest in a long list of accomplished and influential leaders to have graced the GC stage since MLK Day’s inception 20 years ago. Others who have shared their stories and insights with the college community over the years include: African-American religious historian Dr. Quinton Dixie and Latino fiction writer Manuel Luis Martinez; Mennonite African-American singer Tony Brown and poet Brenda Cárdenas; the professional theater group Asante Children’s Theatre (ACT) of Indianapolis; Dr. Vincent Harding, a Mennonite associate of Martin Luther King Jr.; and the Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian, a distinguished veteran of the civil rights movement and close associate of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Really I think our main goal with MLK Day is just for people to pause and remember Martin Luther King Jr., what he did, what he believed, and how he acted on his faith,” Aguirre said. “I think our next major goal is for people to know what he cared about, and what the people that influenced him cared about, and how that is still very relevant today in trying to create a world where there is no discrimination and no inequality.”
What’s more, Aguirre said there is also the important goal of communicating the knowledge that there is still work to be done and that people today can make a difference if they put their minds to it.
Along those lines, GC Assistant Director of Diverse Student Support Sophie Metzger noted that the college currently has two projects in the works designed to extend the spirit of MLK Day throughout the year.
The first, a nationally recognized project known as the 40 Days of Peace initiative, involves a pledge to perform a daily act of peace each day for those 40 days. This year, however, GC staff decided to make the initiative a little more personal by crafting it to better mirror this year’s MLK Day theme, “Shalom: That we may be whole,”,shalom being the Hebrew word for peace.
“We found that the 40 days were written very generically to fit a national audience,” Metzger said, “so this year we rewrote them and renamed it 40 Days of Shalom. So it’s that idea of starting peace within the person and kind of spiralling out to affect a much larger base.”
GC students this year will also be creating a special peace quilt over the next few weeks that draws on the MLK Day shalom theme.
“Basically how it will work is the students will cut out pieces of fabric and ask people to write a word or symbol on them involving their own interpretation of the word shalom,” Metzger said. “The fabric pieces will then be placed on a quilt with a purple background and a white peace sign that once completed will be displayed during Goshen’s Peace Week this coming March.”
Fabric pieces will be available for decoration by students and members of the public following today’s MLK Day convocation, Metzger said, adding that additional fabric decoration opportunities will also be available at designated work stations across the campus throughout the week.
For more information on today’s MLK Day events, visit the college website at http://www.goshen.edu.