MLK celebration encourages students and community to ‘Be the Difference’

Almost 30 events will honor the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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The three-week-long celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. will feature about 30 different events from Jan. 15 to Feb. 5.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As students return to the University for the beginning of the spring semester, many will join University staff, faculty and members of the community in a three-week-long celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The celebration will feature about 30 different events from Jan. 15 to Feb. 5, with a special address by keynote speaker Joy Reid — national correspondent for MSNBC and host of "AM Joy" and "The Reid Report” — Jan. 23 at the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville. 

Events range from talks and panels to film screenings, live theatrical and musical performances and community celebrations. While each event will provide a unique opportunity to learn and reflect, the overarching theme of the celebration is “Be the Difference,” to encourage students to “work together to build the just society that Dr. King envisioned for us,” University President Teresa Sullivan said in an email to the community Jan. 8.

“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to being the difference. From sit-ins to marches, Dr. King persevered for the causes of social and racial equity and affected positive change,” Dr. Marcus L. Martin, the University’s vice president and chief officer for diversity and equality, said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “In these times when voices of hatred and bigotry have been magnified, all of us must consider what we are willing to do to ‘be the difference.’”

One of the goals of the celebration is for University and community members to explore all aspects of King’s life, including religion and academics.

“Perhaps you only know one dimension — maybe you only know the dimension of Dr. King the preacher maybe you don’t know Dr. King the intellectual or Dr. King the Theologian, or Dr. King as a critic of war or Dr. King as a critic of poverty,” said Claudrena Harold, a professor of African-American and African Studies and History at the University. “Three weeks gives you an opportunity to explore him in all of his dimensions and to figure out what he means to us in our times — what his legacy means to us in our time and what his ideas mean to us in our time.”

Another important point of the celebration is the focus on community to reflect how King himself lived. 

“King was the product of a family, a neighborhood, a black community and black institutions that loved him deeply — he understood the importance of community,” Harold said.

Although numerous events are focused solely on the life of King, many others explore other parts of the fights for civil rights and justice both in the historical and contemporary contexts. 

“King did not walk alone and King was not by himself, so I think it’s very important that we honor people who were a part of this larger movement for racial and social justice,” Harold said.

Harold herself will be delivering a talk called “No Ordinary Sacrifice: The Struggle for Racial Justice at the University of Virginia in the Post-Civil Rights Era." Her talk will take place as part of a mini-symposium on Jan. 26 at the Claude Moore Medical Education Building Auditorium from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.  

A separate event being held Feb. 5 at the University Law School will commemorate Gregory H. Swanson, who made history when he filed a federal lawsuit to study law at the University before successfully becoming the first African-American student admitted to the University. 

“We hope that the Community MLK Celebration will be an opportunity for the UVA and Charlottesville/Albemarle community to come together to learn about and reflect on Dr. King’s life and legacy,” Martin said. “With almost 30 events on the calendar, there is truly something for everyone.”

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