Ohio University closed Monday to join the nation in honoring Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., but OU’s celebration of King’s legacy has hardly begun. The university’s week-long celebration, hosted by the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Committee and sponsored by the Division of Diversity and Inclusion, will feature speakers, service projects and a silent march all in remembrance of King.
The week was originally intended to begin Monday. However, due to a large amount of snowfall Sunday into Monday, the event has been rescheduled for Saturday. There will be a silent march at 10:30 a.m. in honor of King. Following the march is a celebratory brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., featuring the highly decorated Patricia Russel-McCloud as a speaker.
Now, the week of celebration is set to start Tuesday with a virtual presentation at 7 p.m. by Rev. Bernard LaFayette Jr., an original Freedom Rider. LaFayette began his work for civil rights by helping to organize events such as the Selma voting rights movement and has continued fighting for equality throughout his life.
Pamela Kaylor, professor of communication studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the Lancaster campus and a committee member, helped to organize Tuesday’s event. She said it was the one she was most looking forward to.
“I saw Dr. Bernard Lafayette in person on our campus about two years ago, and his speech really always stuck in my mind because it was so inspiring that he was telling us his experience as a 20-year-old in the Freedom Riders,” Kaylor said. “He has been working on nonviolent equality, nonviolent demonstrations for 60 or more years.”
Wednesday will have a Well-Being Wednesday Resource Fair from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m. The event will focus on mental health services, general advocacy and will continue to celebrate the life and legacy of King.
Another virtual conversation will take place Thursday from 12 p.m. until 1:30 p.m. “Bridging the Gap: Unifying Our Community” will allow participants to discuss how to best support one another as a unified population.
Thursday night will also hold an event, as Rev. Jack Sullivan Jr. will discuss the limitations of allyship and the benefits of being a co-conspirator instead. The virtual lecture, “Why Justice Seekers Need Co-Conspirators More than Allies,” will help participants reconsider the best practices to assist justice-seeking people and communities.
A virtual social will be hosted Friday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. The penultimate day of celebration will feature a show with music, performers and opportunities to connect with others.
The week will conclude with the busiest day of all. Saturday will include the adjusted events from Monday as well as its originally intended celebrations. From 10 a.m. until 12 p.m., participants can help with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church Preservation Society Service Project and work on restoring a historic church. The goal of the project is to help the future of the Black community of Southeast Ohio by creating a new community center.
Finally, the week will conclude with a Write Your Reps! Campaign. From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., participants can join in a large letter writing campaign to all levels of representatives about issues of personal importance.
The week of activities comes from tireless planning by the committee. Travis Gatling, director of OU’s dance division and co-chair of the committee, said there were months of work that went into this week.
“We have been meeting regularly with the committee as a whole during the Fall semester, and we’re currently meeting up until the event,” Gatling said in an email. “In the preliminary planning, we met to generate a theme for the event. Next, the committee starts to plan specific events related to the theme, beginning with the MLK Celebratory Brunch on Monday and other events throughout the week.”
The theme of this year’s week-long celebration is “UNITY, CommUNITY and OpportUNITY.” Gigi Secuban, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion and ex-officio member of the Celebration Committee, feels the theme honors the week’s activities and King.
“I hope this year’s celebration gives us time to reflect the ways we can come together, in UNITY, as one commUNITY, embracing the opportUNITY to create an anti-racist, inclusive and equitable OHIO and local communities in which we serve,” Secuban said in a press release. “I am proud of the work the organizing committee and our entire community is doing in support of this vision.”
While planning and executing the events has taken much work, Gatling said he is glad to be able to help contribute to this important week.
“I think that this celebration is significant because it honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Gatling said in an email. “My parents were admirers and followers of Dr. King. Unfortunately, like many African Americans, they were impacted by racism and injustice living in the south. However, they encouraged us to emulate Dr. King’s fight for equality, human rights and social justice as kids into adulthood.”
Gatling added he hopes the events are well-attended.
“I just want to encourage everyone to participate in as many of the events during the week as possible,” Gatling said in an email. “There is something for everyone and so many opportunities to learn and share.”