Today on Jan. 15, America is reminded of the life and teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His legacy of equality and justice has been nationally embraced and commemorated as a nationwide holiday. However, has America become stagnate in celebrating this holiday?
Among the college community the legacy of Dr. King is embraced more by universities with predominately Caucasian student bodies. Finding HBCUs that have annual programs and celebrations are few and far between.
“We don’t really do anything," said Shavon Celistan, a student at Texas Southern University. "Last year we had a parade though.”
Yet, colleges like Princeton, Vanderbilt, and Virginia Tech to name a few, all have online postings publicizing in-depth weeks of reconciliation forums, empowerment seminars, and peace walks. Why isn’t the Black college community as involved?
“Princeton University recognizes Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy as a model for those who cherish civil and human rights,” said Cass Cliatt Princeton University spokesperson and Media Relations Manager.
Cliatt told BlackCollegeView that “Princeton’s King Day celebration is an annual event. It was started by undergraduates in the 1980s but is now run by the administration.” He concluded that the celebration attendance is typically between 1,000 and 1,500, plus hundreds of people who choose to watch the celebration via Webcast.
Many embrace King’s holiday for what he stood for while others enjoy the “day off.”
For students like Ketica Guter, senior at Northwestern University, the Martin Luther King holiday is essential and she feels as though the university has made tremendous efforts to celebrate and honor Dr. King.
”We [will] have a prayer vigil and a campus wide event with speaker Kwasi Nfume,” she said. “Although we have speakers, we only get 4 hours of the day off.”
Celebrating exceptional leadership is by no means cause for competition but it is a call to action by those who are impacted said Shenelle Sansom, a junior at Alabama State University.
“As for ASU we hold convocation in [Dr. King’s] honor where speakers come and touch on subjects dealing with Afro-Americans and of course dwell on Dr. King’s accomplishments and all he stood for,” Samson said.
Does the burden of organizing annual celebrations lie in the hands of the student body or the school administration?
Tameka Russell a recent Howard University graduate admits that she can’t remember an annual celebration on campus during her tenure at the university. “It’s sad that HBCU’s seldom participate in MLK Day activities, versus our white counterparts. They seem to show more appreciation for his contributions to society than many of us.”
Nia Hightower, the spokesperson for Tuskegee University, expressed that the university’s administration has taken the initiative and implemented an annual unity prayer breakfast in honor of Dr. King’s legacy.
In addition, Hampton University students will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by leading a campus wide march sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.