Rutgers hosts events for inaugural 'MLK Dream Week' celebration
For the first time ever, Rutgers is devoting an entire week to the inaugural celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., known as “MLK Dream Week."
The celebration spans from Jan. 20 to Jan. 27 and consists of six events that are intended to commemorate King's beliefs, contributions and legacy in many ways.
"MLK Dream Week" serves different functions for the campus, said Kiyanna Stewart, assistant director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center (PRCC).
“It is an opportunity for folks from various communities to come together, in spite of their differences and honor Dr. King,” Stewart said. “People have the chance to reflect, and also to learn.”
Last year the Spring Involvement Fair coincided with King’s birthday.
"We organized an 'MLK Dream Day' event at the fair,” she said. “This year, the goal was to expand what was a one-day celebration to an entire week.”
Interest in the celebration was initiated by Rutgers students, faculty and administrators, she said. The Cultural Center Collaborative took this enthusiasm and organized it into an official event.
“For a while, the community felt as though the University could do more to honor Dr. King and uphold his legacy. Students wanted more than a day off — they wanted a more active celebration that would demonstrate solidarity and bring people together,” Stewart said.
So far, three events have taken place, covering topics ranging from King’s contemporary legacy to the importance of solidarity between Asian-American and African-Americans.
Remaining events include Wednesday’s “Inaugural MLK Oratorical Competition,” Thursday’s “Screening and Discussion: Brother Outsider” and Friday’s “ARTisLove and Action Workshop,” according to the getINVOLVED website.
All of the events work to highlight present-day racial and social issues while simultaneously paying homage to King, she said.
Stewart said one of the most important concepts to keep in mind throughout "MLK Dream Week" is the need for both individual and collectively organized activity.
“These celebrations are a well-intentioned first step for the community because they can inspire action,” she said. “They should have community-oriented goals and results and we want to see these events inspire change on our campus.”
In addition to this, Jannah Handy, assistant director of Intercultural Initiatives, said it is necessary to use "MLK Dream Week" as a time for critical self-examination.
“This celebration is an opportunity to hold a mirror up to see what we’re doing to keep ourselves accountable for Dr. King’s principles,” Handy said. “This goes for students and administrators alike.”
In terms of keeping students accountable, Handy said she hopes these events will instill a greater sense of societal cognizance in students, something King would have stressed himself.
“We want to make sure our students are engaged, aware and actively participating in broader social and political issues,” she said. “At the same time, we also want them to be community minded.”
Jav Mendez, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and contributor to Wednesday’s "Inaugural MLK Oratorical Competition," said his classmates have a lot to gain from King’s teachings, and King exemplifies the way that people should treat one another.
“College students especially should be able to relate to the idea of ‘having a dream’ and pursuing something greater than themselves,” Mendez said. “I personally try to aspire to this mindset every day.”
In order to understand King and benefit from his ethics, people must first realize his complexity, said Michael Anderson, a School of Arts and Science senior.
Anderson contributed to Monday's event on King's life and contemporary legacy. He said many people, particularly students, do not see past the standard, one-dimensional view of who King was as a person.
“There’s so much more to him than what’s covered in schools and textbooks and on TV during ‘MLK day,’” Anderson said. “I think most people really oversimplify the man and the views he espoused.”
In order to comprehend what King stood for and who he was, it is also necessary to know the "prelude" to his story and the other figures who were involved in the Civil Rights Movement, he said.
“People need to seek out knowledge of King through their own research and their own readings,” he said. “That’s the only real way a person can come to understand him.”
Nicholas Simon is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum.