Redlands students and community members gathered on Jan. 15, in the Memorial Chapel to attend a ceremony celebrating Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King Jr, the night before the national holiday celebrating the leader’s birthday. The event was organized by those affiliated with the Chaplain’s office.
The ceremony opened and closed with Chaplain John Walsh, who started the annual event over 15 years ago. Associate Dean of Campus Diversity and Inclusion, Leela Madhava Rau and Assistant Chaplain Peter Tupou reflected upon Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts. Singing performances by the Bel Canto choir and the Chapel Singers choir took place, with solos performed by seniors Roderick Flucasand Tiffany Johnson. Numerous students and faculty read narratives and stories of various people involved in the Civil Rights movements such as Malcolm X, Frannie Lou Hammer, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Ella Baker, and Septima Clark.
Sophomore Lidya Stamper read an excerpt from 1964 by Ella Baker, that conveyed the message that until we take the killing of black men as seriously as we do white men, we’re not going to achieve equality.
“Martin Luther King day in general represents that it’s a bigger struggle and we should be actively fighting oppression,” Stamper said. “Especially in a school that is majority white, it’s really good to have these services because it encourages conversation about racial disparities because they’re still as prevalent today as they were years ago.”
Professor Bill Maury-Holmes read an excerpt at the ceremony, and spoke of the importance of acknowledging significant Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. King.
“Those of us who are concerned of matters of fairness and good and decency need to be reminded that we’re part of a much longer chain, because we get discouraged sometimes, so it’s good to remember that we’re not alone historically,” Maury-Holmes said. “The old adage about those who don’t know their own history are doomed to repeat it is true and we want to learn from people who did things that are great.”
Chaplain Walsh asked Assistant Chaplain Tupou to be this year’s special speaker, who said he wanted to do a proper and appropriate job of honoring the day.
“It’s important because the things that MLK and everybody back in the 60’s were fighting for, are the same things we’re fighting for today,” Tupou said. “I don’t think we’ve gotten to a place where we have equity and equality and justice for all. America is great, but it’s also not great at the same time. There is sort of that dualism between being great and being ugly.”
The ceremony emphasized the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. and his legacy in order to push for societal change the fight to end oppression. Tupou noted that this is especially important now, because of the recent presidential election and the issues of hate and racism that arose around it.
“Obviously we learn about Martin Luther King in school, but it just becomes one of those things like how we learn about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, or all these famous, historic people,” Tupou said. “But do we really know or learn about them, why they lived their lives the way they did, what are their motivations, what was the struggles and challenges they faced and how did they overcome them?”
The ceremony was able to reiterate that in times like these, where our country is divided, students should remember that they have a voice and can make a difference.
“We put these people on such a high pedestal that we forget that they’re just normal people like us, and that because they’re normal people, we can also do these amazing things that they did. It’s just a matter of doing the right thing at the right time.” Tupou said. “[Martin Luther King Jr.] reminds us that we can make a huge difference if we do the right thing.”
[photo is not the property of the University of Redlands nor the Redlands Bulldog]