St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Unity March

Unity March MLK 2020 Old Main

Hundreds of community members gathered outside St. Olaf College’s Old Main Hall early Monday morning to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by joining a Unity March across campus.

Carrying signs they had created at a station hosted by the St. Olaf Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion, the marchers — led by music professor Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, as well as students in his Music and Social Justice class and members of the Black Ensemble — made their way across campus to Boe Memorial Chapel.

Unity March MLK Day 2020 Windchime

“I’m marching as part of the Music and Social Justice class, but moreover just as a citizen of this college to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and everything he stood for,” said music education major Gabrielle Irle ’20. “Right now I’m making a poster that’s going to say ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ and that’s kind of what we’ve been talking about. The intersections of injustice that we see today and how I can be an activist today.”

Tesfa Wondemagegnehu delivers a talk in Boe Chapel following the Unity March.

Inside the chapel, St. Olaf student Harper Bischoff ’22 sang “If I Can Help Somebody.” She was accompanied by professional pianist David Billingsley, founder of the Billingsley School of Music and Arts, who has toured nationally and internationally with noted artists like Robert Robinson and The Sounds of Blackness. Wondemagegnehu closed the event with a brief talk.

“If we can meet people where they are and cheer them through song, show them light, radiate hope, it is my belief that our living shall not be in vain,” said Wondemagegnehu during his talk.

Volunteers tie blankets on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at St. Olaf College.

Throughout the day, St. Olaf students and community members participated in events designed to carry forward the work and legacy of Dr. King — from a “Sweet Dreams” project to make blankets for organizations serving those in need to voter registration efforts.

“A fundamental value at St. Olaf is our mutual respect and regard for one another as members of a community,” said President David Anderson ‘74. “Martin Luther King Day, this Unity March, gives us an extraordinary opportunity to make those commitments real.”

The day’s events culminated with a lecture by civic leader Dr. Abdul Omari titled “Would You Follow You?” By grounding themselves in the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., participants explored the four basic needs of a follower — trust, hope, compassion, and stability — and then answered an even harder question: “Would MLK Follow You?”

Dr. King inspires me because of how bold so much of his agenda was, even by today’s standards. I think his deep-rooted commitment to labor rights is one of the most neglected aspects of his legacy.— Anonymous response to the prompt ‘How has Dr. King inspired you?’

The goal was to make the day one focused on justice, reflection, service, and, most importantly, honoring the memory and dreams of MLK.

“Dr. King’s leadership was incredibly personal,” Omari said during his keynote speech. “If we’re doing leadership — and its not personal — we’re doing something wrong.”