After dedicating his life to the Civil Rights Movement and preaching nonviolence and equal treatment of blacks in the United States, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Ever since, memorial services have been held to mark his birthday, January 15. In 1986, Congress voted in favor of making the third Monday of January a federal holiday in honor of King.
Today, three days before King’s birthday, the 17th annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration will be launched at USF.
The celebration will begin at noon with an official kick-off in the MLK plaza and will last until Jan. 20, when it concludes back in the plaza with a candlelight vigil.
After today’s kick-off, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Inc. and Sigma Lambda Beta International Fraternity, Inc. will sponsor Soul to Salsa in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center’s Room 270. The event, which includes performances by USF’s Total Chaos, will feature food and music as well as an interactive lecture with Maura Barrios from the department of Latin American & Caribbean Studies.
“It’s an educational workshop meant to discuss the differences and similarities between the Black and Latino cultures,” said Lynnmarie Gomes, a member of Lambda Theta Alpha and chairwoman of the event.
Although the organizations sponsoring this event are labeled as Latin, members are from multicultural backgrounds, which is why Soul to Salsa will be held in February, Gomes said.
“Originally it was done in October for Hispanic Heritage month, but it fits MLK because he tried to accomplish unity among people of all colors, so we changed it,” Gomes said.
Another person who has sought and fought for this type of unity is Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, who will speak at a luncheon Wednesday in the Marshall Center’s Tampa Room. Kyles was an eyewitness to King’s assassination and is noted as the only person alive who was with King during his last hour of life. In addition to being the pastor of Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis since 1959, he has served on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad and was a panelist at the White House conference on hate crimes.
Another notable speaker this year is artist and writer Antwone Fisher, whose life story was publicized in a motion picture after he was approached to write a screenplay of his life. The movie, which will be featured at this week’s Movies on the Lawn, will serve as a setup for Fisher’s Thursday arrival.
On Thursday, Fisher will first appear at a VIP reception sponsored by the Black Student Union and the USF NAACP and will then lead the MLK Convocation, which is sponsored by the University Lecture Series and meets in the Special Events Center.
Although a limited number of spots are open to students for the VIP reception (which will include administrators and other USF dignitaries), those interested should contact the Black Student Union, said president of BSU Esque Dollar.
“It’s a great opportunity to maybe be able to speak one-on-one with Mr. Fisher,” Dollar said.
Saturday will play host to the MLK Day of Service sponsored by Volunteer USF. It will be a day when people can make the effort intended by the holiday.
“When (the government) made MLK a holiday, they tried to make it a national day of service,” said Amy Simon, coordinator for Volunteer USF. “We call it a day on, not a day off. Even though it is a day off from school or work, for us, it’s a day on for service.”
The event was previously held on the national holiday, but the day was changed in order to accommodate people who wanted to volunteer but who did not want to miss being involved with the parade, which is held on the holiday every year.
About 200 people are expected to provide services this year such as environmental cleanup efforts for the University Community Center area and Rowlett Park, where flowers and shrubbery will also be planted.
The connection between the effort and King is simple, Simon said.
“It was created to honor his legacy through service because that is what he stood for,” Simon said.
This year’s celebration of King’s legacy will end Jan. 20, after a weekend of events that will include the street festival held at Collins Corner. A candlelight vigil, sponsored by King’s fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, to which he pledged at the age of 15, will be held in the MLK Plaza to celebrate King’s life and conclude the celebration.
The vigil, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will carry the year’s theme: “It was not just a dream.” It will begin with a guest speaker and conclude with guests singing “We Shall Overcome.”
“The chapter here has been doing the MLK vigil for 10 years now,” said Marcus Gundy, a member of the fraternity. “We do it not to commemorate his death, but to celebrate his life.”