Students, faculty members and locals gathered on campus Jan. 17 to take part in the 32nd Annual MLK Commemoration Celebration.
Despite rainy weather conditions, attendees met at the front steps of Old Main at 6:30 p.m. to march in honor of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Approximately 150 people marched from Old Main to the LBJ Student Center carrying glow sticks, umbrellas and the weight of oppressed groups.
Representatives from the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion led the march, while attendees joined together in song. Classic tunes like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Lean on Me” could be heard throughout the Quad.
Members of the Gary Job Corps and other attendees carried signs throughout the march. Some messages included “love all colors and all genders” and “fight for what you believe in.”
Layla Hausner, social work junior, said she marched because it was an important thing to stand for.
“With everything that’s going on politically, I think it’s important to show that people support diversity,” Hausner said.
At around 6:40 p.m., the group marched into the LBJ Student Center, where the commemoration program was held. Sorority members of Alpha Kappa Alpha volunteered to pass out free T-shirts for all attendees.
The shirts included the commemoration celebration’s official theme of Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Resilience Within. In addition, free food was served to all guests in the foyer outside of the LBJ Student Center Ballroom.
Guests began making their way into the ballroom, where the program started at around 7 p.m. The Gary Job Corps, Drill Team and Color Guard kicked off the program with a marching routine, rifle performance, flag raising and recital of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Natasha Edwards, president of the university’s NAACP chapter, led the introducing statement and welcomed Dr. Sherri Benn on stage to explain the program’s occasion.
Benn is the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and the director of Student Diversity and Inclusion. She explained that the commemoration’s purpose was to celebrate the 88th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It is indeed both special and necessary to reflect upon it at this specific time and in this particular place,” Benn said. “It’s not just another holiday we commemorate—it was a pre-ordained moment in the evolution of our nation’s liberation history.”
Benn explained that MLK encouraged, urged and coaxed the nation to overcome oppression. She ended her speech by saying, “we still have some work to do” to achieve equality.
Katherine Rompel-Casarez, ACC professor and advocate, gave the blessing for the night.
“My blessing to you all is that you find that peace that you pray for, and end the suffering of welcomed and long overdue respite from hate and injustice—but it is not here yet,” Rompel-Casarez said. “The battle for justice and equality is not over. Our work continues.”
Sierra Holmes, nutrition and foods junior, sang the Black National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson. The closing lyric was “let us march on till victory is won.”
Then, Edwards introduced President Denise Trauth to the stage for her welcome remarks.
“With our country experiencing more pronounced racial tensions, we should remember the wisdom that Dr. King shared,” Trauth said. “I hope his message of peace and unity resonates strongly with us and that Dr. King’s example of peaceful activism guides us through the social unrest we are experiencing today.”
Following the president’s speech, narrator Gerry Altamirano introduced the program’s monologues. Many different topics were covered, such as Native American experiences, slavery, Japanese American struggles, womanism, feminism, Muslim American experiences, homophobia, LGBTQIA rights and more.
In between monologues, alumnus and artist Jaylon Jenkins performed songs such as “Glory” by John Legend and “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” Jenkins said he has performed at the university’s MLK Commemoration Celebration for the past three years.
Edwards made her closing remarks, and the 2017 MLK Commemoration Celebration came to an end at around 8 p.m. with all of the speakers latching hands and coming together as one.
Courtney Wilkins, 2017 MLK Planning Committee member, said the program means a lot to her and hopes it inspired attendees to make a difference.
“I hope everyone takes each message to heart, and realize that oppression isn’t just one marginalized group’s fight—it’s all of our fights,” Wilkins said. “I hope we can all come together and fight to end the oppression.”
Russell Boyd II, Black Lives Movement San Marcos co-founder, said he enjoyed that the commemoration celebration was diverse.
“Sometimes when we think of civil rights, we think of it as just black and white, and I think it’s important to look at it on a lot of different scales,” Boyd II said. “We need to make sure that all oppressed peoples’ stories are heard and that we’re fighting on their behalf as well, because that’s what Dr. King would have wanted us to do.”
Boyd II said he is proud to attend a university that annually celebrates MLK and student diversity.
“It really opens up peoples’ eyes and ears to listen,” Boyd II said. “By us continuing to support something like this on such a large scale, we’re reinforcing the core values of our university. We’re continuing to prove that as Bobcats, we are diverse and we are united.”