Classes were not in session Jan. 18, but campus was far from quiet.
The sounds of marchers, runners and powerful lecturers engaged the campus as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with rallies, community services projects and talks.
Monday’s events were just the start of Carolina’s week-long Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration, which will feature workshops, panels and a photography exhibit.
“The Martin Luther King Jr. celebration at UNC-Chapel Hill is one of the longest running MLK celebrations in the nation,” said Jordan Peterkin, co-chair of Diversity and Multicultural Affair’s MLK Celebration.
The commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day begin early Jan. 18 as members of Carolina Rejuvenating Our Community Through Service (ROCTS) began preparing for their annual MLK Day of Service 5K around 5:30 a.m.
Held for the second straight year, the “The Time is Now” run nearly doubled in size, attracting 80 more runners than 2015. Jacqueline Ceron-Hernandez, the ROCTS’ diversity education and celebration coordinator, said the event attracted participants not just from Carolina, but community members from throughout the Raleigh-Durham area.
Serving as the organization’s 13th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for Service community project, ROCTS donates the $15 registration fees to local organizations. This year, the event raised more than $2,000 for the Deah Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha Memorial Award created by UNC-Chapel Hill and the Dental Foundation of North Carolina.
The award honors Barakat and Yusor Abu-Salha, who were killed last February along with Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha. Barakat was a dental student; his wife, Yusor, planned to attend the School of Dentistry this year. Razan, Yusor’s sister, was a student at N.C. State.
“Yusor and Razan would have been proud of all of this,” said Yousef Abu-Salha, Yusor’s and Razan’s brother. “I hope that we can continue to use the inspiration that Martin Luther King — and everyone else who fought and suffered for their civil rights — to keep pushing forward. As long as we all have a dream, like Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, I would hope we’ll overcome our despair and continue to set precedents and make great strides of improvement.”
After the run, the Martin Luther King Jr. celebration spread through the Town of Chapel Hill as University groups and students participated in the annual “Building on Yesterday’s Dream” rally and march, hosted by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro and UNC-Chapel Hill chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Carolina sophomore Madrid Smith and activist William Barber III both spoke at the event, urging the community to follow King’s ideals to change the modern society.
Monday’s celebration concluded with the 35th annual MLK Celebration Lecture and Awards at Memorial Hall. There, Taffye Benson Clayton, associate vice chancellor of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and chief diversity officer, accepted the 2015 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award on behalf of the University.
Presented by INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the HEED Award is a national honor recognizing colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish together as a University,” Clayton said. “While there is a great deal yet to be done, these moments are important to pause, to come together and to celebrate how far we’ve come as an institution.”
Marc Lamont Hill headlined the event as keynote speaker. Hill is a distinguished professor of African American studies at Morehouse College, BET News host, political contributor for CNN and host of the nationally syndicated “Our World with Black Enterprise” television program and Huff Post Live.
“I hope that Dr. Hill’s talk provides a space for re-engaging the dream — a dream deferred,” Clayton said. “Truly, the time is now for a renewed energy and spirit for being in community, for building bridges, for healing and for doing the work that absolutely must be done.”
During his hour-long talk, Hill told the audience that the country still has civil rights work to do and to follow the ideals of listening, asking different questions and taking action to extend King’s legacy into the 21st century.
“It doesn’t mean much to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy if we leave him on April 4, 1968,” Hill said. “It doesn’t mean much if we merely celebrate his accomplishments. The question for me is always, ‘What can we do to use Dr. King’s legacy to help us redress the issues that we are struggling with today?’
“At the same time that we use MLK Day as an opportunity to reflect on the gains of the ’60s and the gains of the ’50s and the gains of the ’70s… right now in 2016 we’re still wrestling with issues for which Dr. King’s legacy, his voice and the tradition out of which he emerged can be constructive.”