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Dr. King’s ‘Dream Made Flesh at UMass Lowell’

Week of Events Celebrates Civil Rights Leader

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From left, Pascale Jean-Jacques, Connie Cabello and David Jones donated teddy bears made by UMass Lowell students during MLK Week to local organizations including representatives from Girls Inc. of Greater Lowell, right.

By Julia Gavin

Forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shared his dream for a future free of prejudice and hate to a divided nation. This year, King’s dream was celebrated and revived by a campus united during “MLK Week: Dreams of Yesterday. Realities of Today. Hopes for Tomorrow.”

The week’s events, organized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Heritage Awareness Committee and Student Affairs, offered the community opportunities to learn more about King’s work and methods to bring his message of peace and progress into their daily lives. 

“We as a university community remember, honor and celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said David Jones, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, at the opening dinner. “This is an opportunity to celebrate progress since the era of Dr. King, who used his voice to fight peacefully for equality and justice. But more importantly, it is an opportunity to reflect and critically think about what else we can do to continue carrying out Dr. King’s message, principles and vision.”

Building on Jones’ opening challenge to bring King’s dream into their daily lives, students were spurred to action by a captivating keynote address by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill -- a professor at Columbia University whose work as an author, media expert and social activist has earned him international recognition. Hill told students to strive to make the world a better place.

“King’s legacy is so important right now, but so vulnerable. It’s a signpost of where we came from and where we need to go,” said Hill, referring to societal issues including economic and educational injustice. “If King were here today, he would be challenging every person – student to politician – to be their best self.”

Hill also said that the diverse audience at Cumnock Hall gathered to celebrate the civil rights leader’s work was “exactly the type of room King wanted to see “and was an example of ‘his dream made flesh.’ ” He commended the faculty and staff in attendance for fostering a culture of inclusiveness and support on campus. 

“We have to make a commitment to listen to voices other than our own and to get America to listen to itself. To keep track of its own democratic process,” said Hill. “We also need to be better at understanding the power, energy, possibility and vision of young people. We need to invest and believe in them instead of contain them.”

Hill asked the students to work as one toward equality for all, not just themselves, and take advantage of their opportunities in college. “Don’t just go to college to answer questions. Go to question the answers.”

Several people with UMass Lowell connections were also recognized at the event for their work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Service Awards: UMass Lowell Prof. Paula Rayman, director of the university’s Peace and Conflict Studies Institute, for her work with Israeli and Palestinian women and dedication to nonviolent social action; UMass Lowell graduate student Janet Johnson Bryant, for her contributions to advancing the women’s peace movement in Liberia; and Gregg Croteau, the executive director of United Teen Equality Center in Lowell. Megan Lopes and Ashley Sanchez from the Kathryn P. Stoklosa Middle School were also recognized for their winning entries in the MLK Week essay contest.

One Week to Inspire Lifetimes of Action

True to King’s life, the MLK Week events were about action as much as learning. A well-attended solidarity march from East to South Campus followed by conversations about King’s life kicked off the week’s events. Senior engineering student Marck Clerveau won the week’s oratorical contest with a speech imagining King’s reactions to history since his assassination. 

To finish the week, more than 100 students participated in a day of service, including Zumba for a Cause and a build-a-bear workshop. More than 120 stuffed bears with personal notes created for homeless children or those with medical challenges in partnership with House of Hope, Merrimack House, Milly’s Place, the Wish Project, Lowell General Hospital and Girls Incorporated of Greater Lowell.

The solidarity and support felt during MLK Week has inspired students to continue bringing King’s dreams to life on campus and in their lives.

“MLK Week helped me grow as a person, as an American and as a college student doing my best to impact the lives of others,” said Kimberly Andrade, a nursing student and Heritage Awareness Committee member.

Pascale Jean-Jacques, who works in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said that the week was eye-opening for many students.
“Part of the excitement of MLK week was educating those unfamiliar with Dr. King's work. We were able to reflect on and analyze his work and think about the state of our nation now in regards to Dr. King's dream,” said Jean-Jacques, a community social psychology graduate student who helped to organize the events. “The celebration doesn’t have to end after one week. If anything it should motivate and drive the university community to provide such events.”

MLK Week also began a series of events on campus celebrating February as Black History Month. For more events, visit the Office of Multicultural Affairs’ Facebook page.