Annual MLK Day celebration held virtually

Poster for NMUs virtual MLK Day celebration. Pictured in the poster is MLK Jr. in his famed Walk to Freedom in Detroit.

Photo courtesy of Leora Tadgerson

Ashley Beronja

On this year’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Northern Michigan University switched to a safer approach for remembering the late King in relation to the current pandemic. Instead of marching around campus and sitting together to remember the legacy of King, those who attended the event were dialed in through Zoom, something so many have become accustomed to. 

The celebration was not new, but the way the day was celebrated was. Put on by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Center for Student Enrichment was a virtual showcase that featured guest speakers discussing the themes of truth, racial healing and transformation. The event took place Monday morning over Zoom hosted by Jessica Cruz, NMU’s inaugural chief diversity and inclusion officer. 

Featured guest speakers included NMU staff and students Mary Etchison from the counseling and consultation services, LaMart Hightower, assistant professor in the social work department, Amber Morseau, the new director for NMU’s Center for Native American studies, Brianna Sartin, junior marketing student, Lesley Larkin from the English department and NMU President Fritz Erickson. Concluding the gathering was Isabelle Ureel from the Center for Student Enrichment as well as Alexa Alagon, assistant coordinator of the Student Equity and Engagement Center, who discussed upcoming events. 

The event opened with Cruz welcoming everyone to the event and followed the tradition of playing the song “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” the song known as the Black National Anthem along with the anthem for universal uplift by playing Kirk Franklin’s rendition of the song. Afterward, Cruz acknowledged the fact that NMU rests on the Indigenous land of the ancestral homeland of the Anishnaabe people.

President Erickson followed up by addressing the importance of the day as well as how the university as a whole learned to adapt by changing the day to a more virtual setting. Erickson expressed clearly how there is no place for violence and no place for hate on campus.

“I remain committed to diversity and equity inclusion in NMU,” Erickson said. “They are core to who we are. I remain committed today as ever to identity those in those inequities and addressing them.” 

The event continuously tied in the themes of truth, racial healing and transformation by remembering the life and legacy of civil rights leaders such as King in addition to the more recent events such as the Black Lives Matter movement.

Cruz shared the importance of today in honoring, respecting and continuing King’s legacy.

“As was mentioned during today’s virtual gartering, the work of equity and social justice takes timeless effort,” Cruz said. “We must continue the work, and remembering King, as well as what he advocated for, serves as inter-generational guidance for us as we continue to strive towards a more equitable and just society for all.”

As different as it was having the events be held online, Cruz said that holding this event online had one benefit and that was the increased accessibility and broader community.

“It was easier for people with mobility challenges to participate because the program did not include a march, which requires physical movement from point A to point B. Instead, people were invited to view the program via Zoom or Youtube,” Cruz said. “Also, hosting the program online allowed us to invite colleagues throughout the U.P., such as colleagues from the diversity committee at Bay College. It is my hope that we will establish a U.P.-wide coalition for those interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

As part of the themes discussed in the gathering, along with the on going themes that are discussed in the future events held by office of diversity and inclusion, Alagon, guest speaker as well as assistant coordinator of the student equity and engagement center, said that she hopes that people are able to see past the pedestal that contemporary media has chosen to display King on.

“Many of the campaigns today take his words out of context and don’t accurately portray his criticisms of American society. He, along with many other civil rights activists fought against economic exploitation, the dangers of over-militarization and the evils of systemic poverty,” Alagon said. “He fought for racial equity and was seen as so radical to the American people during his time that he was silenced. Everything he risked his life for for is still relevant to the social justice movements of today.”

Alagon continued by sharing her wishes for the future of campus community. Alagon hopes that the events of the past year can be used as a catalyst to address the hard issues that directly affect NMU students of color with “intentional spaces where conversations and reflections are guided into productive forward momentum” said Alagon. 

While MLK Day is held on just a singular day, it was made very clear in the virtual gathering that it should not stop after once the day is done. All of the speakers at the gathering shared the same idea – to move forward and be able to identify the systematic inequities and be able to create an atmosphere welcoming for everyone of all backgrounds.

“The work requires self-reflection, self-care, and sustained commitment,” Cruz said. “For this reason, we invite students, faculty, staff and community members to stay engaged by continuing to participate in programs that create the space for continued reflection that support action.”

For more events hosted by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, go to https://www.nmu.edu/diversity/node/1