There may be just one day set aside to honor civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but the University is set to honor his legacy with a week’s worth of events.
A series of events — spanning from discussions on social justice to a day of service to religious ceremonies — began Jan. 15 and will continue through Friday. Organizers said the holiday is particularly poignant this year due to the election and inauguration of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. But organizers said it is also important to recognize, in spite of how far America has come, that the country has not yet fulfilled King’s dream.
The Afro-American Cultural Center, the Joseph E. Slifka Center, St. Thomas More, Dwight Hall and Yale’s Chaplaincy all contributed to planning the week’s programming.
“There is a racial, political, and civil rights focus of King’s work interrelated with the faith based and social justice interests,” Pamela George, assistant dean and director of the Afro-American Cultural Center, wrote in an e-mail. “The broadness and cohesiveness of King’s vision does allow a natural coalition for diverse groups to consider the ways we can work together during this time and beyond.”
The title of the week’s events — “Because of his Dream: ‘Yes We Can’ ” — alludes to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech while borrowing Obama’s popular campaign slogan. Ian Oliver, chaplain for Protestant Life at Yale, said Obama’s inauguration would give Americans confidence that they are realizing King’s dream of racial equality.
“There’s no question that the inauguration of the first black president of the United States the day after the national holiday will change this year’s observance. Dr. King’s message of hope and nonviolent change does seem vindicated to some extent this year,” Oliver said. “But, we are still a long way from the ‘Beloved Community,’ and MLK Day also provides a check on our hyperbole.”
Jewish civil rights activist Charney Bromberg spoke Jan. 16 at the Slifka Center about his work with civil rights leaders such as Phillip Randolph. Bromberg noted that Jews and blacks worked together during the civil rights era, perhaps because the two groups’ shared experiences of hardship in slavery and the Holocaust inspired them to work all the more for social justice.
This year’s programming features several religious events, including a Wednesday prayer sponsored by the Slifka Center and a “night of pan-Christian fellowship” at the St. Thomas More Catholic center.
Last night, residential college dining halls served traditional southern “soul food,” in memory of Dr. King, dinner organizer Hannah Burnett ’08 said. The meal was meant to remind students of food’s social justice issues, Burnett said, including the lack of access to healthy food choices in poor urban and rural settings. The dinner’s immediate purpose, Burnett said, was to have students sit down as King and his friends would have done: “at the table of brotherhood.”
The week concludes with Friday’s Unity Ball in Woolsey Hall. The dance will honor King’s legacy through celebration, co-organizer and Yale College Council President Richard Tao ’10 explained.
“All the events organized for the week have been in light of commemoration, and celebration is part of commemoration,” Tao said. “This is an event that will ideally bring together people from different corners of the university. It’s going to be a fun event, but there will be commemorative undertones.”
The dance’s DJs were asked to respect Dr. King’s legacy and select music that is neither racially offensive nor misogynistic, Tao said.