GOSHEN — The students at Goshen College wanted more. And this year, they got it.
Like they have for so many years before, the students and staff at Goshen College helped ring in Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a healthy lineup of events and gatherings geared toward celebrating the life and message of the renowned Civil Rights activist and leader.
However, this year, that lineup was significantly longer than in past years, stretching well into the evening hours — a fact due in large part to a vocal calling by the college’s student body for a more extensive celebration of MLK Day on campus.
“This year, having events throughout the whole day was a response to comments that we got in previous years from the students,” said Davonne Harris, diverse student program coordinator at GC, during a gathering of the GC Black Student Union Monday evening. “Typically the day kind of ends at lunch, so this year we really wanted to adjust to what students wanted, and students wanted to do more. So that’s why we decided to extend the event to include the whole day.”
Monday’s celebration of MLK Day began bright and early at 7:30 a.m. in the College Mennonite Church Fellowship Hall with the annual Community Breakfast featuring speaker State Rep. Rebecca Kubacki.
Following the breakfast, a Spoken-Word Coffeehouse and Talkback Session took place from 9 to 10 a.m. in the church fellowship hall, followed by Convocation from 10 to 11:20 a.m. at College Mennonite Church featuring the gospel choir Voices N Harmony and a talk by Anthony Brown about how perceptions of diversity have changed since his time at Goshen College.
Next up for the day’s festivities was a presentation of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech with small-table discussions from noon to 1 p.m. in the Westlawn Dining Hall.
As a new addition to the program this year, faculty lectures on Racism and Civil Rights and Women in the Civil Rights movement were held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. in the Church-Chapel. Those lectures were then followed by the presentation “Institutional Racism: Neighborhood Dumps” from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. in the Newcomer Center.
And last but not least — also held for the first time this year — was a special Black Student Union Dinner and Discussion held from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Newcomer Center.
During the event, members of the union invited students and members of the Goshen community to stop by, grab some snacks and get settled in for a viewing of the film “American Violet”, a 2008 drama based on the civil rights lawsuit Regina Kelly v. John Paschall, filed on behalf of 15 African-American residents of Hearne, Texas, who were indicted in November 2000 on drug charges after being rounded up in a series of what many considered to be racially motivated drug sweeps.
“This woman, Regina Kelly, she went from being a poor, single mother to being an outspoken activist traveling around and sharing her story,” Harris said of the film. “She’s a real person, and I think that’s why it hits so close to home, because this is still happening today. So that’s why we decided to show the film tonight.”
Martin Banda, a GC student and member of the Black Student Union, praised GC’s long history of celebrating MLK Day during Monday’s event, adding that he was especially excited about the chance to share the work and goals of GC’s Black Student Union with the greater community.
“We really believe in MLK’s emphasis on trying to provide equality to every single race, so we see it as an opportunity to present people with different types of information and viewpoints that they may never have been exposed to before,” Banda said of the union’s participation in Monday’s events. “There has been a lot of progress made, but there is definitely more that still needs to be done, so I definitely think it’s important to take some time out to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of MLK, as well as the efforts that are still going on today in his name.”
Karsten Hass, a third-year student at the college, echoed Banda’s comments.
“Oh yeah, I’d definitely say Martin Luther King’s message still has relevance today,” Hass said of the importance of keeping King’s legacy alive for future generations. “We talk about him a lot, but I think we’ve kind of toned him down a bit over the years. So I think bringing up what he had to say, and really digging in and bringing to light again what was going on and what he was fighting for, is so important. Because the reality is, a lot of what he was talking about is still going on today. So yeah, his message is definitely still relevant.”