St. Olaf to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with unity march, lecture, and other events
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To honor and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, St. Olaf College will host a daylong series of events that will begin with a Unity March across campus and conclude with a keynote lecture by civic leader Dr. Abdul Omari.
The events throughout the day on Monday, January 20, are open to the public, and all members of the community — including children — are welcome and encouraged to attend.
“Dr. King challenged us to love each other, especially when it is hard, to not be silent at the sight of injustices, and to be radical by coming together and fighting for the rights of the disenfranchised. I want to invite the community to come and honor Dr. King’s legacy by joining in action, activities, and conversations. Join us during the Unity March to show your solidarity for his dream and the hope that we are moving forward with kindness, love, and respect,” says St. Olaf Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion Director María Pabón, whose team is organizing the day’s events.
St. Olaf Chief Diversity Officer Bruce King notes that while many people across the country don’t have school or work on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the focus of the holiday should be on events and work that honor the civil rights leader’s legacy.
It’s important that we dedicate ourselves, our community, and especially St. Olaf College to making this a work day for justice, reflection, service, and, most importantly, honoring the memory of MLK and all the dreams he left in our hands, Ole hands, to bring to fruition.Chief Diversity Officer Bruce King
“When asked why St. Olaf doesn’t recognize the King Holiday by canceling classes and allowing our faculty and staff to have a day off, I think it’s important to remember that Dr. King didn’t work as hard as he did for justice or pay the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life so that the nation could have a three-day weekend,” he says. “It’s important that we dedicate ourselves, our community, and especially St. Olaf College to making this a work day for justice, reflection, service, and, most importantly, honoring the memory of MLK and all the dreams he left in our hands, Ole hands, to bring to fruition.”
Morning Gathering and Unity March
To begin the day, all are invited to gather at 9:30 a.m. in the second-floor atrium of Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences for breakfast pastries and community conversation prior to the Unity March. The gathering will feature a station for students and community members to make signs to carry on the march.
At just after 10 a.m., participants will move out to the plaza near the Regents Hall east entrance, in the space near Old Main and Steensland Hall.
At 10:05 a.m., St. Olaf music faculty member Tesfa Wondemagegnehu will provide instruction on the songs that marchers will sing as they walk across campus. All those gathered will participate in a brief call-and-response rehearsal. Associate College Pastor Katherine Fick will then lead the crowd in prayer.
At 10:10 a.m., the march will begin across campus toward Boe Memorial Chapel (the march will serve as the college’s chapel service for the day). Wondemagegnehu — along with members of the Black Ensemble, a St. Olaf music ensemble dedicated to showcasing and representing black arts and culture, as well as students in the Interim Music and Social Justice class — will lead the marchers in song across campus.
The march will end inside Boe Memorial Chapel, where Harper Bischoff ’22 will sing a solo. She will be 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, The Sounds of Blackness, and many others.
Wondemagegnehu will close the event with a brief talk.
“Having the opportunity to share his incredible, justice-inspired legacy with our St. Olaf students is the only way I can imagine spending MLK Day on the Hill,” Wondemagegnehu says. “I’m truly humbled to be a small part of this event, and look forward to future projects like these on campus.”
Pabón says she hopes this is just the first of many such MLK Day events.
“My hope is that the Unity March becomes an annual event where we all come together as sisters, brothers, and community members to honor Dr. King’s legacy of love, justice, equity, and peace,” Pabón says. “I hope that regardless of what is happening around us, we can come with our differences under a common goal of a better world.”
My hope is that the Unity March becomes an annual event where we all come together as sisters, brothers, and community members to honor Dr. King’s legacy of love, justice, equity, and peace.Taylor Center Director María Pabón
Service, Conversation, and Voter Registration
Throughout the day, St. Olaf students and community members are invited to participate in events that carry forward the work and legacy of Dr. King:
- Service: In honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s commitment and call to serving others, the Taylor Center will host a “Sweet Dreams” service project to make tie blankets. Supplies will be provided in the Lion’s Pause in Buntrock Commons from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and organizers hope that together community members can complete 50 blankets that will be distributed to shelters and youth centers that serve African American communities, as well as locally to the Community Action Center.
- Conversation: The Cultural Union for Black Expression (CUBE) will host collaborative conversations about the African American experience throughout the day, culminating with a panel discussion at 6 p.m. in Tomson Hall 280. In addition, a number of Interim courses will be taking time during the day to make connections between their class material and MLK, his legacy, and the themes of the day.
- Voter Registration: To support the legacy of Dr. King’s work to secure voting rights for all — including the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the college will host two Voting Rights tables just outside of the Cage from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. One table will provide community members with information about voting rights, and the other will assist with voter registration. The tables will include volunteers from CUBE, the Student Government Association (SGA), the college’s Office of Academic Civic Engagement, and students in Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion Kelly Figueroa-Ray’s Interim class.
The day’s events will culminate with a lecture by civic leader Dr. Abdul Omari titled “Would You Follow You?” The lecture, which will begin at 3:30 p.m. in the Buntrock Commons Black and Gold Ballrooms, will be streamed and archived online.
In this closing session, participants will continue to ground themselves in the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and answer the question “Would You Follow You?” They will explore the four basic needs of a follower — trust, hope, compassion, and stability — and then answer an even harder question: “Would MLK Follow You?” This session will be filled with reflection, engagement, and a call to action.
Omari is the founder of AMO Enterprise, which helps people better connect in individual and team settings through leadership seminars and keynotes. His research is focused on the perceptions of mentoring and the role of Cultural Intelligence within mentoring relationships.
With a devotion to civic and public service, Omari served six years as an elected member of the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota and currently serves on the University of Minnesota Foundation Board of Trustees, the Board of Directors for the YMCA Greater Twin Cities, AchieveMpls, and Civic Eagle. He has been featured in Minnesota Business Magazine’s “Young Entrepreneurs,” and in 2019 he was one of 10 people from the Twin Cities selected to participate in the Young American Leaders Program at Harvard Business School.
Omari also coordinates the Minnesota Private College Fund’s Eddie Phillips Scholarship for African-American Men, a program that provides students with scholarship funds, leadership development opportunities, and mentoring. St. Olaf was recently selected to participate in the program, with two Oles named as scholars this year. All 15 scholars from around the state will come to St. Olaf January 20 to participate in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities.
St. Olaf Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison says the college’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an opportunity for all members of the community to come together to advance the college’s work.
“Our mission at St. Olaf College calls for us to examine faith and values, and explore meaningful vocation in an inclusive, globally engaged community. I believe strongly that it is an academic, as well as a cultural, imperative that we do so, as it enriches our learning community. We should expect no less within a community that is devoted to preparing students for life in an increasingly global society. We should demand no less in a community that is dedicated to the exploration and exchange of ideas that emanate from a multitude of cultural, historical, political, and religious perspectives,” Morrison says.
Although we currently face several challenges in our society, my hope is that the Unity March will serve as an example of people coming together on one accord to reflect on how far we have come despite our differences, to celebrate our accomplishments, to honor our identities, and to remember that our greatest opportunities are when we work together in unity.Vice President for Student Life Hassel Morrison
“A community enriched by diversity, equity, and inclusion at St. Olaf College will help create the transformational experience of discovery, understanding, and global citizenship we wish to guarantee for all our students, faculty, and staff,” he adds. “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, ‘the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy.’ Although we currently face several challenges in our society, my hope is that the Unity March will serve as an example of people coming together on one accord to reflect on how far we have come despite our differences, to celebrate our accomplishments, to honor our identities, and to remember that our greatest opportunities are when we work together in unity.”