Students, faculty, staff and members of the Valpo community gathered together to celebrate the works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr on Jan. 20. Throughout the day, community members were invited to a series of events to help commemorate the 31st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day event.
The morning included various focus sessions, which brought attention to representation and access, ally-ship, and justice, faith and forgiveness.
Later in the day, all were gathered in the Chapel of the Resurrection to listen to the day’s keynote speaker, Imani Perry.
The convocation opened up with prayers, courtesy of Valpo community members, and soulful gospel music, courtesy of Reginald Hogan & Company.
President Mark Heckler then took the floor and addressed the Valpo community.
“What are we as a people of faith, as a community of different faiths bound by the love of God… what together are we called to do?” Heckler said.
He brings that, with this, we must be willing to be co-workers with God.
Every year, the Valparaiso University Martin Luther King Jr. Award is given to an individual or group on campus who make “significant and lasting contributions to continue to create an environment where diversity is honored and respected on campus and within the broader community.”
This year, the recipient of this award was Associate Professor of Psychology Amanda Zelechoski. Zelechoski was honored for her exemplary contributions to the university.
In addition to this award, Heckler was also awarded a plaque for his “sincere appreciation for many years of service to Valparaiso University and the surrounding community by being an advocate for the MLK Day celebration,” Executive Director for Intercultural & International Engagement of the Office of Multicultural Programs (OMP) Byron Martin said.
Next, students from the OMP recited a piece called “It’s Hard in America to be Free.”
“My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. But in America it’s hard to be free when you look like me,” read the chorus of the recitation.
This line was recited the most, as it was meant to resonate with a lot of people.
As the recitation goes on, it mentioned things that must be fixed in our world, by pairing these ideas with the phrase “it’s our time.”
Ideas like it’s our time to demand equality for tribes, to demand a better criminal justice system, to demand a better immigration system and much more were mentioned in their recitation.
Finally, after another performance by Reginald Hogan & Company, keynote speaker Imani Perry took the stage.
Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies and faculty associate in the program in law and public affairs and gender and sexuality studies at Princeton, touched on many things during her keynote address.
To begin, Perry talked about the first time she ever spoke publicly when she was 8 years old.
“It was before the holiday [MLK Day] was nationally recognized and my mother went to the administration of the school because they thought themselves rather progressive for having the day off for the holiday to be acknowledged, but my mother said ‘Oh no, this should be a day on,’” Perry said.
She was then chosen to deliver King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at their MLK program.
“I thought about that as I was sitting here and it is very clear that Valparaiso is a place that understands that this is to be a day on,” Perry finished.
One topic discussed was the fourth of Fourth of July holiday, brought about by a speech by abolitionist Frederick Douglas.
“And [he] argued that American Independence Day was a cruel gesture for the enslaved. That the principles of the american project such as liberty, citizenship and freedom were hypocray to the enslaved people of the united states because they lacked all those things,” Perry said.
According to Perry, this idea addresses the paradoxical freedom that we celebrate still to this day.
The remainder of Perry’s speech discussed the question “What is the King holiday?” and “How do we ‘celebrate’ it?”
On King’s holiday, Perry points out, we are meant to commemorate the vision and actions of the freedom movement. We can do so by following, learning, and extending the legacy of Dr. King.
In her closing, Perry opens up the idea that hope is not naturally occurring.
“People say to me, ask me sometimes ‘How do you hold onto hope?’ Hope is not an organic feeling for me at this moment. It’s not an organic feeling, it's a practice, something I practice,” Perry said. “It’s a commitment, something deliberate. I don’t just feel it, I create it. We all have to do that.”