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A celebration fit for a King

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the world was faced with controversy, Martin Luther King Jr. challenged people of all colors to think about what freedom really meant and inspired many people to peacefully protest the government and the establishments that denied equal rights for everyone.

Today, the world is embroiled in controversy again. This time it is terrorism and war that challenge us to think about what freedom really means.

“In times of fear and uncertainty, it’s comforting to listen to King’s words,” said professor for Africana studies Cheryl Rodriguez. “Over and above all else, he was a man of peace; he studied peace and taught peace and teaches us as a community how to act.”

This week is the 16th annual commemorative celebration of King’s life. The USF Office of Multicultural Activities and the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival are collaborating a week of events to honor King.

The first commemorative celebration took place in 1986-87, the first year that a national holiday was declared to honor King, said Samuel L. Wright Sr., associate dean for Student Relations.

“The Institute of Black Life wanted to do a major MLK celebration and put together a theater program with the help of the USF college of theater,” Wright said. “It was so successful it was standing room only.”

The theme for this year’s celebration, “The Content of Our Character” was chosen, because of the state of controversy society is in, said Nicole West, coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Activities.

“We need to try to get past color, religion and sex and get to the content — what we’re made of,” said Tabitha Raj, secretary for the MLK celebration committee. “It’s important to see someone’s character before you judge them — the more awareness there is, the less scared people will be, and fear, is what keeps us from embracing other peoples cultures.”

Today, at noon., marks the celebration kickoff at the MLK Plaza sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Activities.

Raj said that the kickoff ties in with Patio Tuesday. USF President Judy Genshaft will speak at the event, as will several student speakers. The event will end with a march symbolizing the march led by King in Washington D.C. during which he gave his infamous “I Have a Dream” speech.

John Jackson, the speaker on Wednesday, is the youngest national director of education in the history of the NAACP. He is in charge of leading the education advocacy agenda for the world’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Jackson’s speech takes place at 11:30 a.m. in the Marshall Center Ballroom.

“One of the reasons Dr. Jackson was chosen as a guest speaker is because of his age; he is young, and we think the students will be able to relate to him,” said Raj. “He is the youngest person to ever hold the job he does in the NAACP.” Before Jackson held his position with the NAACP, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.

Tickets for this event cost $10 and can be purchased at the information desk in the Marshall Center or from the Office of Multicultural Activities.

At 9 p.m., the Movies on the Lawn, sponsored by Campus Activity Board, is showing Ghosts of Mississippi on Crescent Hill.Raj said this film was chosen because it is the story of Myrlie Evers-Williams’ life.

The University Lecture Series is sponsoring Williams to speak at the Special Events Center on Thursday, at 5:30 p.m. for the MLK convocation.

A sniper murdered Williams’ husband on their front porch June 12, 1963. Her husband’s killer walked free, and she spent the next 30 years trying to convict his murderer. In 1994, she succeeded, and Byron De La Beckwith was sentenced to life in prison for her husband’s murder.

“Ms. Evers-Williams was an obvious choice for guest speaker. She is the wife of a slain civil rights activist. She is also a very personable speaker, and she gets the audience involved,” said Raj.

For more information about “The Content of Our Character,” call the Office of Multicultural Activities at 974-5111.

Contact Annie Curnowat