Jan. 24, 2018
VCU students uncover the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
At campus and community events last week, students explored King’s life, leadership and spirit of service.
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Although the formal theme of Virginia Commonwealth University’s fifth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week was “50 Years Later: Don’t Sleep on the Dream,” a nod to King’s legacy since his tragic death, an informal theme could have been: “uncovering.”
For hours on a sunny Saturday morning, VCU students and other volunteers worked to uncover Richmond history at East End and Evergreen cemeteries.
In Evergreen Cemetery, power saws and weed trimmers buzzed, creating the soundtrack of the morning. After cutting the plants close to the ground, volunteers gathered branches and twigs into piles that stood more than 5 feet high.
In another part of the cemetery, students ripped at the brush and piled armfuls of ivy, sticks and leaves onto tarps and into wheelbarrows to be carted away.
Aiyana Grey, a third-year health, physical education and exercise science major in the College of Humanities and Sciences, passed her hand across a marker revealing that the indentations she had felt while clearing dirt were actually a name.
When asked why she was interested in participating in the cemetery cleanup, Grey said, “… They had been buried under rubble for years and years. At least we can get families to come and see their passed ones. I thought it would be really sweet to try to come and make a difference.”
Xiomara Glaze, a first-year student in the Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program in the School of Allied Health Professions and a member of the Black Graduate Student Association, said she has seen great progress at the cemetery in recent years.
“I know this cemetery is predominately African American. … It’s important to make sure this is known and let people know that it is still here and you can still honor your family members,” Glaze said.
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In addition to uncovering Richmond history, MLK Celebration Week created an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to uncover the man beyond the legacy.
Though the MLK Week Planning Committee included faculty and staff from the Monroe Park and MCV campuses, students served in integral roles as committee members, offering programming ideas, encouraging event attendance among their classmates and friends and braving the cold January weather to participate.
Events ranged from “More Than a Soundbite,” sponsored by VCU’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, to several spearheaded by student organizations. The Black Lives Matter Student/Faculty Collective screened the documentary “Baltimore Rising,” and the Theta Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. hosted a candlelight vigil that united about 100 members of the VCU community in a walk from The Depot to the University Student Commons.
The week included a Legacy Night, presented by the Activities Programming Board, and Café and Design Night, presented by Black Arts Student Empowerment at VCU, and the spoken word collective Good Clear Sound.
These events combined arts and entertainment about King’s legacy, civil rights and social justice with education, history and service.
Call to action
At Sunday’s MLK Community Dinner, which featured a performance by the Black Awakening Choir, keynote speaker Makola M. Abdullah, Ph.D., president of Virginia State University, applauded King for his ability to envision real change, create access and work in the face of obstacles.
“Dr. King didn’t do the work because he hoped that he would be honored in years to come,” Abdullah said. “We are in the middle of one of the most important periods in American history … how we work out of this will define America and define who we are as a people. The real and true dream was a dream of opportunity, equality and access for those who were disenfranchised economically and politically.”
Abdullah encouraged those in attendance to continue advancing King’s work.
“It’s time for you and I to roll up our sleeves. … It’s time to do what is right by continuing to achieve justice for all,” he said. “Each day is a new day of opportunity and we can do that in the memory of Dr. King.”
The theme for this year’s MLK Celebration Week, “50 Years Later: Don’t Sleep on the Dream,” was developed by Tichana Bailey and Esther Sakyi, senior public relations majors in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, after researching some of King’s lesser-known writing and speeches. Deaudrea Rich, a December 2017 graphic design and creative advertising graduate and project assistant for strategic initiatives and collaborations in the Division for Inclusive Excellence, designed the marketing materials and photographed several events.
“As an immigrant, having the opportunity to come to this country and achieve my goals proves to me that the dream still lives on,” Sakyi said. “Though there might be some obstacles on the road, we should stay persistent and press forward.”
“To me, the theme ‘50 Years Later: Don’t Sleep on the Dream’ was a call to action for my peers to recognize how far we’ve come since Dr. King’s death and how far we still have to go,” Bailey said.
The keynote address for MLK Week had to be canceled because of snow, but it will be rescheduled. The speaker, Martin Luther King III, will be able to offer an intimate view of King as his oldest son.
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