MLK Day events, speaker, to focus on community service, Black excellence

Katarina Rothhorn, Features Editor

Monday, Jan. 17 marks the 36th celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with nationwide marches and acts of community service. King, who would turn 93 years old this Jan. 15, will be honored at NMU with multiple outdoor events hosted by the Student Equity and Engagement Center and Center for Student Engagement.

“We need to keep asserting that this is a culturally inclusive and supportive atmosphere up here and a supportive climate,” Leora Tadgerson, interim director at the SEEC, said. “We need to keep having these initiatives to bring through the views and initiatives from MLK. He was an incredible man with a beautiful heart and mind and those teachings still live on today, and we need to really highlight that.”

MLK’s teachings of inclusivity, nonviolence and service to others, to name a few, will be encompassed within the program of events scheduled from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on MLK Day. A virtual Skillbuilder about food insecurity in Marquette will be presented at 11, followed by a Legacy March from the Forest Roberts Theatre to the Lodge at noon. The march will conclude with guest speaker, Darnishia Slade, and service projects outside the Lodge. 

Slade is a Ph.D. candidate at Michigan Tech and instructor in the Pavlis Honors College. Her research work looks at Black students in rural environments, specifically in the U.P., according to Stefani Vargas, program coordinator at the Student Equity Engagement Center.

“[Slade] focuses on a concept called Grit, which is similar to the concept of resiliency,” Vargas said. “I asked her to come talk about her research and really talk about Black excellence, specifically in the U.P. In this environment that we’re in, what does it look like when Black students are thriving and how do we celebrate that.” 

Slade’s presentation will start around 12:30 p.m. outside the Lodge and will also be posted online for those unable to attend in-person.

“I’m honestly very much looking forward to having [Slade] as a guest speaker and really getting to watch students take the information in and sit with it,” Vargas said. “I always find when we have a really engaging speaker, my favorite part actually happens a couple days after when those students come and say, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve been thinking about that for days now and I’ve been really processing it. Can we talk about it?’” 

For students looking to process Slade’s work and the long history surrounding MLK Day, volunteers from the SEEC and the CSE will be around the Lodge to talk with students and hand out grab-and-go service projects and snacks. 

“After the event, even though we can’t join together as a community and have lunch in a safe way we would love if they go in, grab some trail mix or a cupcake and take that back to their dorm or home to finish off the celebration,” Vargas said.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, students will not be able to complete many of the service projects in the Lodge and will instead be able to take them home and bring completed projects back to the Lodge by 4 p.m. or the Center for Student Enrichment by Jan. 19. Service projects include making cards and placemats for veterans at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans and prepping masks for Room at the Inn. Students will also have the opportunity to make blankets for the Women’s Center and pack cereal bags for JJ Packs in person with limited availability to ensure social distancing. 

“I think MLK Day is this perfectly impactful time where we have the Legacy March that ends in a really impactful program and allows people to really meditate on MLK’s legacy and also the current state of anti-blackness in this institution, in this region, in our country,” Vargas said. “And maybe hopefully hear some really positive things and really celebrate Black excellence and get to feel that catharsis of that.”