Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations are underway at the University of Richmond as students and staff commemorate the holiday that marks the birthday of the civil rights activist.
“The celebration is really about helping people see themselves as contributors to furthering social justice efforts, whether that be on campus or in the community at large,” Anthony Crenshaw, Director of Operations and Strategic Initiatives at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, said.
The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement is working to tie Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations to the Richmond community through this year's ‘Shaping Tomorrow Today’ celebration, Crenshaw said.
UR senior Shira Greer participated in the ‘Changemakers of Today Panel Discussion’ hosted by the CCE on Jan. 12.
Greer is a student organizer on campus with Africana Studies and Black Student Coalition, and she spoke alongside other Richmond organizers and changemakers on Thursday, she said.
“With all of this history around us, it's really just important to take that time around King's Day to reflect on our role in history and how we’re engaging the broader community around us, the broader world around us, and what that looks like,” Greer said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day signifies hope, first-year student Tara Knighton said.
“When I think about it, because my grandfather went to see [King], I think of progress and how far we’ve come. We've gone so far but we haven't gone as far as ideally we’d like to be,” Knighton said.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity for reflection on King’s civil rights activism and his work towards Black liberation, Greer said.
Beyond just the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, it’s important to consider some of the more broad messages that King had in his activism, Greer said.
A committee in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement planned this year’s events. To build from last year, they added the Beloved Community Gathering, a program that is open to the whole campus community and that is a moment of both reflection and celebration, Crenshaw said.
The Beloved Community Gathering will feature food and music, as well as performances from Roscoe Burnems, poet laureate of Richmond, and Richmond hip-hop artist Chance Fischer. This event takes place in the Alice Haynes Room on Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 4-6 p.m, according to the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement website.
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UR is also hosting a series of Community Conversations throughout the day on Monday, Jan.16, according to their website.
The topics of these conversations change every year, but the intention is to create dialogues among members of the community around an issue that feels relevant to both the campus and Richmond community.
Greer plans to attend one of these conversations. It is important to consider the activism that it took from communities to make MLK Day a recognized holiday, to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, and to consider how different communities have worked to uphold his legacy, she said.
Attending these programs is not the only way to engage with the celebrations on campus for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Crenshaw said.
The RVA Community Makers exhibit in the Heilman Dining Center is one of the ways for students to engage with the celebrations beyond attending a program.
The RVA Community Makers was an initiative that was done earlier in the year by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and was then brought to life on campus, Crenshaw said.
Students have many opportunities to engage with the exhibit, whether they read a poster or go to the website, Crenshaw said.
First-year Caty Campbell said she got one of the shirts that were being given out as part of the RVA Community Makers exhibit. She is grateful for King’s work, and how it has allowed people to expand their communities, she said.
There is a broader spectrum of people you can meet when you don’t have to think about discrimination, Campbell said.
Crenshaw said that one of the goals of the events is to build connections among community members through participation in the celebrations.
“The intention behind the celebration is to allow everyone to see themselves in it,” he said.
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