The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at a banquet on Jan. 20, kicking off Carolina’s annual MLK Week of Celebration.
The banquet, organized jointly by the MLK University/Community Planning Corporation and Carolina’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, recognized King’s bridge-building legacy and set the stage for a week of events on campus.
Held annually, the event raises scholarship funds for local high school and college students who have demonstrated a commitment to community involvement through civic, educational and religious activities.
Chancellor Carol L. Folt attended the event and expressed gratitude to the community for its partnership with the University.
“I’ve taken such strength and such knowledge from the people in this room — from all the things that you have done to build community and seek justice and to look forward with love and faith and understanding,” Folt said. “You are an inspiration to all of us.”
Reginald Hildebrand, author and former professor of African American studies and history at Carolina, delivered the keynote speech, offering remarks on King’s life and ideals, and on the role those ideals play in America today.
“Suppose we were somehow able to make a report to [King] on the progress we have made on the issues that were the most troubling to him during the last year of his life: poverty and violence and war,” he said.
Noting lasting inequality and desensitization to violence across the nation and the world, Hildebrand said, “That would be a hard report to give to Reverend King.”
As Hildebrand recalled his college days, he spoke of the day he was invited to listen to King speak. Despite his own complex feelings toward King’s principles of nonviolence in the face of injustice, Hildebrand attended the civil rights leader’s speech.
“Still, still I went to hear Reverend King because somehow I believed even then that he had something to say that I needed to hear — that our whole society needed to hear,” Hildebrand said. “I believe that still.”
Hildebrand said we face many of the same challenges today as King once did and challenged listeners to hold firm to King’s values.
“We are complicit. Our sensibilities have become raw. Our spirits are ragged,” Hildebrand said. “In contrast to all this, we remember the mellifluous voice of Martin Luther King — the very sound of which evoked the kind of deep, meaningful harmony that was his vision.”
In addition to Hildebrand’s talk, the event recognized former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston B. Crisp for his impact on the Carolina community.
Other events throughout the week will include a unity dinner; a lecture by Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP, on Jan. 24; and an art exhibition featuring paintings, photographs, music, dance and spoken word.
For a full roster of the week’s events, visit diversity.unc.edu/mlk.