Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Students and QC locals brave the snow for MLK celebration

Soft jazz filters through Centennial Hall, five minutes before the community celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is set to begin. The seats are filling up fast and multiple conversations are happening at once. The topics range from last year’s keynote speaker, founder of Blackademically Speaking, Dr. Chandra Gill, to the movie Black Panther’s recent Golden Globe nominations.

At this year’s celebration, which took place on Saturday, Jan. 12, the keynote performance was given by Chicago-based choir Dexter Walker and the Zion Movement. They were joined by other groups like Rock Island’s Teranga Drum Circle, local dance instructor and freelance artist Alyssa Gordan, and Augustana College’s spoken poetry group, DAT Poetry Lounge. Both Augustana students and Quad Cities residents had braved the snowstorm outside to join the celebrations.

“We want to make sure that the life and legacy of Dr. King is always at the forefront of this event,” Michael Rogers, director of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity (OSID) said during his opening address. Ashley Allen, assistant director of the OSID, explained that the celebration’s theme “Be the light” was inspired by Martin Luther King’s popular quote, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”  

King’s birthday falls on January 15; according to Rogers, Augustana’s commemoration was revived ten years ago by Augustana’s associate dean at the time, Bishop Mark Anderson. Coincidentally, the 12th was also Anderson’s birthday, and he was presented with an award by the OSID which recognized his leadership and support of the MLK program while at Augustana.

“Look around you,” Anderson told the audience during his opening address as the master of ceremonies. “You are the stars of this community, and I think you ought to give yourselves a round of applause.” He continued by inviting the audience to remember King’s work  and “to celebrate, to worship, and to have a good time tonight.”

The celebration originally began as a community event held in the Quad Cities until it was hosted by Augustana. “Every year we try to make sure that we involve diverse perspectives in the community, so we usually try to involve local clergy or faith leaders,” Rogers said, highlighting elements of the event that have remained consistent. This year, along with Anderson, Rabbi Linda Bertenthal of Temple Emanuel in Davenport gave an invocation, and Reverend Joseph D. Williamson, III of Second Baptist Church, Rock Island, gave a benediction at the end of the night. The planning board also brought in local talent such as the Teranga Drum Circle and local dance instructor and freelance artist Alyssa Gordan.

Dexter Walker and the Zion Movement are a new addition to the program. “They’re really talented, they’re award winning and they’re not too far away, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase them here,” Rogers said, explaining the OSID’s decision to invite the choir to perform. He said that while the MLK community choir had been a staple of the program in past years, the recent loss of its strength and numbers prompted the organizers to try something new.

The celebration carried powerful messages for many people in attendance and prompted equally powerful reactions. President Steve Bahls shared his opinion with the gathering during the college welcome. “If we really embraced Dr. King’s philosophy, I believe that the table of power in Rock Island, Illinois, the tables of power in the Quad Cities and the United States-they would be diverse tables,” Bahls declared. “And we would learn the lesson that individuals from diverse backgrounds bring a marketplace of ideas from which better decisions will be made.”

“I’m excited that Augustana continues to commit itself to embracing national events that are so rooted in United States history, and that we continue to embrace the legacy of icons like Martin Luther King,” Monica Smith, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said prior to the celebration. Smith added that Augustana’s commitment of resources to social justice issues was why she chose to commit to it herself.  

“Being able to perform for that crowd to honor King’s life and message was inspiring and powerful,” Lydia Lara, senior and President of DAT Poetry Lounge said in an email interview after the event. The group performed a piece called “MLK: The Beacon of Light” that Lara said was inspired by King’s life and sacrifice.

The national celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. day will occur on Jan. 21, 2019. Augustana classes will end at 3:20pm to allow students to attend the keynote address, which will be delivered by Monica Smith at 3:30pm in the Gavle Rooms.

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Students and QC locals brave the snow for MLK celebration