Richmond’s Common Ground and the MLK Day Committee teamed up Monday to help community members honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy and engage in King’s dream, through speeches, volunteer opportunities and family education.
Richmond's annual commemoration program to celebrate MLK Day honored keynote speaker Eboo Patel, who reflected on King’s role as an interfaith leader and front runner of a movement built on the revolutionary idea of universal love.
Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Corps and member of President Obama's inaugural advisory council on faith-based neighborhood partnerships, spoke about the Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi's influence on King. King realized that the traditional “Christian love” he preached traversed religions, Patel said.
Patel added that King was a great interfaith leader because he was rooted in his own tradition and unabashed about his faith. King also developed appreciative knowledge of other traditions, rather than seeking out things to dislike in other cultures.
“In interfaith work, we have to realize that we can have both roots and wings — that what helps us love and learn from our fellow human beings, from other traditions, is what we take from our own tradition,” Patel said.
King didn't always agree with other leaders of his time, but he learned to compromise, Patel said.
“The only way to live in a diverse democracy is to be able to disagree on some fundamental things, and work together on other fundamental things," Patel said.
At the commemoration, students spoke about fighting for change and having their voices heard. Speakers included Renata Harrison, of Spiders Against Sexual Assault and Violence, Joshua Kim, of the Multicultural Student Solidarity Network and Joshua Young, of the Roosevelt Institute.
There were also performances by Ngoma African Dance Company, the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the Octaves and Francheska Williams.
The MLK Day Committee of fifteen members partnered with Common Ground to coordinate campus efforts to honor King. These traditions began at UR in 1986, committee members Dazia Hall and Chastyn Smith said at the day’s kick-off breakfast in the Heilman Dining Center.
After more than two decades of celebrations, the university suspended all normal campus activities on the holiday starting in 2014.
"It's not a day off, though," Smith said. "It's a day for honoring King through service to others."
Over 150 students, faculty and staff members left campus to volunteer at one of 12 work sites.
“We will learn from one another and from our friends in the community, armed with empathy, curiosity, and a heartfelt desire to serve,” University President Ronald A. Crutcher said at the breakfast.
Crutcher spoke Monday morning to remind students of King’s education and humility.
“This is the transformational power of education, where everyday citizens like you and I can imagine and pursue a more just and equitable world,” Crutcher said.
While many people left campus, others stayed to participate in Richmond's MLK Family Day, an event held on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons. The event aimed to teach local children about King, and included arts and crafts activities, a story corner, print making and a short movie.
Tyler Glover, a Richmond local, brought his three daughters to the event after reading about it online. Because there is not much taught about King in the public school system, Glover looks for new ways every year to educate his family about King’s legacy, he said.
“His legacy stands for hope. Hope to better yourself and the things around you. Hope for things to come.” Glover added.
Contact reporter Brooke Warner at firstname.lastname@example.org