For the 25th anniversary of the national Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, institutions across Stanford organized events to commemorate the life and works of this extraordinary national figure.
Last Friday, the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute hosted a public King Holiday Celebration on the second floor of Tresidder Memorial Union to remember King’s impact both on the past and future. The event, with an audience of around 100 people, included musical performances, dramatic readings of King’s sermons, a documentary trailer and an update on the King Institute’s recent work.
Among those in attendance were Bob Fitch, a staff photographer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King’s activist organization; Ramzi Rabah, who played King in a Palestinian theater production and spoke about the nonviolence movement in West Jerusalem; and Aleta Hayes ’81, a contemporary dancer and lecturer whose father was the first black male to attend the University of Missouri medical school.
Kadesia Woods ’14, Jessica Anderson ’14 and Tyler Brooks ’14, members of the Chicago Collective, performed during the program’s reception.
“It just reminds me to be really grateful for the things that he did … we are the embodiment of the changes that he wanted to make,” Woods said when asked what the day meant to her. “It reminds you to really take in all of these experiences, because they wouldn’t be possible without the work of the Civil Rights Movement.”
“It’s just another marker of the privilege that we have of being students at Stanford,” Anderson added. “And appreciating our blackness, but also appreciating everything [else]. Getting an opportunity to perform, having a voice on a campus like this — it’s a wonderful opportunity. Just being able to think about Martin and his contribution and how we can be a part of that.”
The King Institute
“I think he was a great symbol of the movement,” said Clayborne Carson, professor of history, about the importance of King.
Coretta Scott King selected Carson in 1985 to lead the King Papers Project, responsible for editing and publishing all of her late husband’s writings. Carson also directs the organization that hosted Friday’s party, the King Institute, which is a body that seeks to keep King’s message of non-violence alive around the world.
“I would not say that the movement would not have happened if King had not been born, but he was certainly the person who best expressed its long-term vision,” Carson said. “He linked our struggle to traditional American ideas of democracy and justice … When he spoke at the march on Washington, he didn’t just say, ‘Let’s pass a civil rights bill.’ He said, ‘We’re fighting for the ideal of democracy.’”
Carson expressed pride in the Institute’s work to spread King’s message in 2011, which saw the opening and dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C., a multi-year project which he helped orchestrate.
The King Institute also staged a reinterpretation of the play “Passages of Martin Luther King” with the Palestinian National Theater as part of their recent goal to “take Martin Luther King to [other] part[s] of the world where … his message is very vitally needed,” according to Carson.
Last year, the Institute also organized for the play to be performed in Beijing.
“The fact that we were able to do the play with scenes dramatizing the protests in Birmingham … a mile from Tiananmen Square was to me a testament to the power of Martin Luther King’s message,” Carson said.
Other celebrations include the annual Martin Luther King Jr.-themed dinner that will be hosted by Stanford Dining tonight, featuring dishes like Creole gumbo and jambalaya. A red banner reading “Stanford Remembers Martin Luther King, Jr.,” festooning the palm trees at the start of Palm Drive, will stay up all this week.
The University Public Worship services at the Memorial Church both last Sunday and this upcoming Sunday are dedicated to King. The a cappella group Talisman will perform at next week’s morning program, a multifaith celebration organized by the student group Faiths Act in Togetherness and Hope (F.A.I.T.H).
Last Sunday’s service, hosted by the Office for Religious Life, featured a sermon by Bishop Yvette Flunder, founder and senior pastor of City of Refuge United Church of Christ, a “radically inclusive” Christian ministry in San Francisco.
“Love leads to action,” she said in a sermon written to align with the King’s values and beliefs. “Love … is a do word. Love is the oxygen of a movement for freedom. We need love, but we need love that does something.”
Although both the MLK Celebration and Worship Service were well attended, Carson said he wished 100 more students had come to the Friday Celebration.
“I do believe that we’re still cognizant of the day [and] recognize it,” Anderson said. “But I feel like there is a lot more room for development, thinking about it and actually having events on campus.”
Woods, who works for the Black Community Service Center on campus, said that despite what she perceives as a lack of enthusiasm in recent years, she believes Stanford is shifting.
“More is being done,” Woods said. “I know that the MLK Institute … [is] actually partnering up with more groups and are trying to do more tours of the Institute because how many people have actually visited?”
“People are doing more, but it’s going to take a while,” she added.