Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed that young people of the future would study and work toward progress together, regardless of their ethnicities and backgrounds. His dream comes true every day on college campuses and was commemorated at the University during the annual MLK Week events.
"Every year we do this, and every year I learn a little more," says Kimberly Andrade, a nursing student who works on the event series.
"Helping with MLK Week has truly given me a different point of view of what Dr. King means to students in this country," says Andrade Fearon, a graduate fellow in the office of multicultural affairs, which organizes the series with campus and community partners.
Fearon, who emigrated from Jamaica at 12, says he better understands King's impact on American young people after working on the events for a few years. "I think that it is really amazing to realize that as a person of color I would not be afforded the opportunity to even be sitting on this organizing committee if not for the work of Dr. King," says Fearon. "Participating in this week has truly energized my passion for enriching diversity on campus and continuing to empower others to educate themselves on his work and legacy."
Students, staff, faculty and community members spent the week learning more about the work of King and other civil rights activists and planning how to bring his dream to life throughout the year. The week's highlight for many was the annual dinner — which drew more than 200 people — with a keynote speech from Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women.
"Dr. Jones-DeWeever was thought-provoking and challenged our students to be awakened by Dr. King’s dream and do the work we need to do to better our communities," says David Jones, director of the office of multicultural affairs, "She also talked about recognizing our privileges be it race, gender, sexuality or class and serving as an ally for those who are marginalized or whose voices are silenced."
Community members advancing King's goals in their work were celebrated at the dinner with the MLK Distinguished Service Award. The recognition was awarded to Associate Dean of Students Annie Ciaraldi, Visiting Instructor in business relations Ralph Jordan, student leader Weeldens Louis and Lowell High School Peer Mediation Coordinator Yvette Cheeks. Olivia Peacock won the middle school essay contest and Sothearith Heng won the elementary school art contest.
Students were also encouraged to talk of their own dreams and practice the public speaking skills for which King was famous in the annual oratorical contest. The winner in the annual oratorical contest was Jemima Abankwa, whose speech about how her dream and work are impacted by King's legacy won over her peers.
"It was completely amazing to hear students from different backgrounds explain how Dr. King's life had impacted their own and how his dreams and movement had paved the way for them to have a platform to tell their story," Fearon says. "It took a great level of courage to tell their stories on such a grand stage. It truly exemplified the kinds of students UMass Lowell attracts and helps to cultivate."
As giving was a cornerstone of King's life, more than 75 students participated in a day of service, making bracelets and scarves to donate to local charities.
Many of the students who helped to organize the events are active on campus as student leaders, and spend the school year working to grow a diverse and productive community within the University. Andrade hopes that the week of events helps to reinforce students' dedication to each other and their diverse communities while remembering those who have come before them.
"I hope that they can realize how far we have come in history and that in order for us, as a population, to live in harmony, we need to put aside racist views, prejudice, and preconceived thoughts, and get to know each other," Andrade says. “As people say, you only live once, so live and see life through Dr. King's eyes, because I'm pretty sure he was on to something."