Eastern Michigan University kicked off its five-day Martin Luther King celebration with its 31st annual commemorative march around campus Thursday, Jan. 12.
Students were enthusiastic as they marched from Welch Hall to the Student Center where they were invited to attend an MLK art gallery immediately following the march which featured black history themed art by EMU students. This year’s theme for the five-day celebration is “Courageous Conversations: The Writings on the Wall.” President James Smith, Ph.D was also in attendance. President Smith said that students can benefit from attending and is very grateful for student involvement.
“It’s an important part of our American history and university to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, it’s something that we should all be a part of,” he said.
The march made a stop at the Martin Luther King memorial statue adjacent to Welch Hall for a speech by Professor Ronald Woods, Ph.D., professor of African-American studies. Woods discussed the purpose of marching to bring social change.
“Martin Luther King embraced the significance of protesting. We march because we are called by our conscience to do something in order to transform society. The urgency of the issue makes us want to engage,” he said. “We always think about what is the wisest thing to do, the urgency to do it, and what is the best way to get things done. You blend those things together and it leads to a lifelong commitment to social change.”
Eastern’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter also sang a traditional chant while gathering around King’s statue. Tiran Burrell, co-chair for the MLK celebration and graduate assistant for Diversity and Community Involvement, led students in the march. Burrell said that it’s important for black students to honor who paved the way for them to have equal opportunities to get good jobs and further their education.
“It serves as a historical reference point to pay homage to what our ancestors before us had to do for us to be in the positions we are in today,” he said. “Marching is one of the many forms of protest that they had to put their lives on the line to make sure that we have opportunities today.”
Christopher Groce, member of Alpha Phi Alpha and a co-chair for the march, was very proud to be a part of the march. This is also his first school year being a part of the fraternity. Groce said that the march can help students become more involved.
“It gives them a chance for students to speak out and connect to their community in a positive way and the art gallery is a good way to bring inspiration to others,” he said.
Darius Anthony, president of EMU’s NAACP chapter, said that the march brings the campus community together and raises awareness.
“Marching shows unity and keeps pressure on your target. It’s important to show appreciation to those who came before you and builds on a legacy,” he said.
Nicole Johnson, chair of the MLK celebration and senior admissions adviser, said that learning the history and significance of marching is beneficial to students.
“It’s important in recognizing the history of marching and protesting. It’s about knowing that something in your conscience isn’t right,” she said.