A candlelight vigil, birthday celebration, Black Lives Matter Symposium and a Community Dinner highlighted a week full of community-engaging events during the MLK Celebration Week 2016.
A Celebration Week in Review
Established in 2014, the MLK Celebration Week commemorates the honor, life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Richmond community observed the week from Jan. 18-24, with several events rescheduled due to inclement weather, through various activities that benefited the local community, including a non-perishable food drive and a pencil drive.
Alpha Phi Alpha at VCU sponsored the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Candlelight Vigil which kicked off MLK week on the evening of Jan. 18. “Manly Deeds, Scholarship and Love for All Mankind” is the Theta Rho Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha’s motto. King, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity himself, embraced this motto through his lifelong dedication to his community. More information on Alpha Phi Alpha can be found at www.apa1906.net.
“This is a great way to start a new year by hosting events in the community,” junior Daris Stuvaints of Alpha Phi Alpha said. “It means a lot (that we’re able to host these events). It’s a major step to us having a greater presence on campus.”
Participants of the Candlelight Vigil engaged in a silent march from Monroe Park to the Compass. The event included discussion of King’s legacy beginning with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech from 1963 and ended with a prayer. Attendees were invited into Rodney’s inside of Shafer Court Dining Center to enjoy hot chocolate and donuts, provided by Alpha Phi Alpha, warming themselves up after being in the cold.
Alpha Phi Alpha also sponsored the MLK birthday celebration on Jan. 19 at noon in the lobby of the University Student Commons as well as the “Let Freedom Ring” community concert on Jan. 21 at 6 p.m in the Richmond Salons.
The concert featured VCU’s Black Awakening Choir, who performed for community members, students, faculty and staff. The Black Awakening Choir, founded in 1970, is one of the oldest student organizations on campus. Singing gospel music, their mission is to provide a spiritual outlet for students of all denominations through song and fellowship. The choir has received many awards including first place in the National Baptist Student Union Choir Competition in 1988, 2002 and 2005. More information about the Black Awakening Choir can be found at www.blackawakeningchoir.com.
“I think these celebrations are important because we celebrate diversity and knowing different cultures helps people understand that everyone is human and it teaches black history,” junior biology major Maya Winfree said.
In the extended celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, the MLK Cafe and Design night offered a night full of novelties on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Sponsored by the Activities Programming Board at VCU, students enjoyed hours of caricatures, photo booths and novelty items such as making photo frames and custom license plates. Approximately 35 participants were also able to paint an advanced paint-by-numbers portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I’d never done a paint night before and I wanted to support the MLK events on campus. I learned that I’m more creative than I thought and it let me be creative, think outside the box and relax,” Donte Sharpe, coordinator for student organization finance, said. “Dr. King was about diversity and with painting there was no right or wrong way. It still comes out beautiful even if it’s different.”
In memory of MLK’s legacy of service, a blood drive was held on the MCV campus on Jan. 19 and on the Monroe Park campus on Jan. 20. One individual unit of blood can save up to three lives. Every day in the United States and Canada, 43,000 pints of donated blood is used. Every two seconds, someone needs blood. All blood donated from the VCU blood drives benefited Virginia blood services. More information on Virginia blood services system can be found at www.vablood.org.
Two of the biggest events during MLK week were the Black Lives Matter Symposium and the MLK Community Dinner. These two events engaged the community by sparking dialogues and facilitating collaboration between VCU and the surrounding Richmond area.
Black Lives Matter Symposium
Prior to the Black Lives Matter Symposium, a select number of VCU students were nominated by faculty and staff to discuss symposium topics with nationally recognized activist, writer and filmmaker Bree Newsome.
Wasting no time, Newsome and the students launched into an animated discussion about the problems and difficulties that face people of color in the United States. When asked about how students can get involved in political activism while still in school Newsome replied, “The best way I can think of is getting involved within the community. Otherwise, you will have no idea what problems need addressing. Get into the habit of helping.”
The Black Lives Matter Symposium was heartfelt and earnest, highlighting the sensitive issues that many students at VCU face. The interactive conversation allowed for audience members to ask the questions they felt needed to be addressed. The panel answered questions with thought-provoking answers that sparked an exchange of ideas between the panel members, which included Newsome, Chief Alfred Durham (Chief of Police, City of Richmond), Adria Scharf (Executive Director, Richmond Peace Education Center), Shawn Utsey, Ph.D. (Professor of Psychology, VCU) and Angelique Scott (Activist and student leader, VCU). Popular topics from the evening included police brutality and what the Richmond Police were doing to ensure the safety of the Richmond community, the Black Lives Matter movement, the upcoming presidential election and what the next step will be for African American civil rights.
MLK Community Dinner
The MLK Community Dinner took place on Sunday, Jan. 31 in the Commonwealth Ballroom. The event brought together members of the Richmond community including students, faculty, staff, alumni and community leaders and their families in honoring the life and legacy of King over dinner catered by Mama J’s and Sweet Creations.
“It (the dinner) brings the community together and creates important dialogue about the issues and concerns of the community and the area,” Beverly Walker, associate director of University Student Commons and Activities, said. “We (VCU) are a community-focused institution and the dinner serves as a great opportunity to connect and collaborate with the community, as well as talk about the importance of service.”
Attendees were asked to donate a canned food item to benefit RamPantry, VCU’s student run food bank, in exchange for their catered meal. In addition to canned goods, attendees also donated school supplies to benefit a local Richmond middle school, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. This is VCU’s first year partnering with the local middle school, but, according to MLK Middle School principal Derrick Scarborough, it is the first year of many.
“The support of the (VCU) community is tremendously important to the MLK (Middle School) community,” Scarborough said. “The more exposure our students get to VCU and the collegiate environment — the more inspired they’ll be to pursue their dreams.”
Numerous MLK, Jr. Middle School faculty and students attended the dinner, and three middle school students from 6th, 7th and 8th grade read aloud excerpts of their winning essays about how MLK has affected their lives, community and dreams. One winner from each grade level was awarded a certificate, as well as a ‘VCU swag bag’ equipped with various VCU themed prizes.
“It’s important for the community to recognize the value of Dr. King’s work,” Walker said. “Hopefully, VCU will do this for years to come.”