Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was commemorated on EMU’s campus by an abundance of activities for students and faculty to participate in. The main attraction was a chapel service and forum with speaker and author Shane Claiborne. Other activities included an art exhibit about the civil rights movement in Common Grounds, two readings of “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” Cultural Learning Tours in downtown Harrisonburg, an opportunity to clean up Black’s Run, and a dialogue with the owners of a barbershop downtown.
Shane Claiborne’s appearance at chapel brought in more attendees than thought possible on a day that was not convocation. His presentation focused on King’s dream of equality that has not been fully achieved. Claiborne referenced Mother Theresa, saying, “It’s fashionable to talk about the poor, but not to the poor.”
He encouraged the audience to “make poverty personal” by being a Good Samaritan and helping those that we find “in a ditch.”
This idea caught the attention of Lenore Kauffman who said, “When he tried to get his friends from Afghanistan on the phone, it became real for me,” she said.
Finally, Claiborne left the audience with a recording of “We Shall Overcome” sung in Arabic as a reminder that Dr. King’s dream has not yet been fulfilled for the whole world.
Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” was written in response to a statement white Alabama clergymen had made that condemned Dr. King’s part in the civil rights movement. A small group, mostly faculty and staff, gathered in the Hartzler Library, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, to read the letter together.
Each person took a turn reading a section of the nine page letter. In the letter, Dr. King defends the movement for using nonviolent protests in opposition to the clergymen’s urgings to settle social injustices only in court. He also claims the label of “extremist,” saying,“So the question is not whether or not we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?” The letter is long remembered as being one of the most important written documents of the civil rights era.
Flowing in from the north side of town, Black’s Run drifts between buildings and under streets. All along the way, the stream is cluttered with plastic bags, soda cans, and other trash. Campus Ministries decided to provide an opportunity for students to serve the community. Five Biology professors helped organize a stream cleanup with five other students. The group of students gathered at the Little Grill Collective to don gloves and waders and head to an assigned section of the stream with their plastic bags.
Brad Mullet, a sophomore Biology major, decided to participate because he has an “appreciation for cleaning up the ecosystem.” He believes that it indirectly relates to Dr. King’s dream because “when we clean up the ecosystem, we’re helping future generations.”
“Also,” he continued,” you’re making a statement. When people drive by and see you picking up trash, they see that there are good people in the world and maybe are influenced to do something too.” Senior Josh Kanagy described it as “a way of honoring King’s legacy.”
Claiborne’s evening forum was a time for “decompressing and processing,” according to campus pastor Brian Martin Burkholder. Claiborne did a balancing act: keeping the crowd entertained with funny videos of children from Philadelphia and bringing up challenging content about the kingdom of Christ.
Sophomore Brittany Sehenuk commented, “My favorite part was when he showed the video of the children from Philadelphia talking about how unfairly things are distributed. They were so cute and the one little girl really knew what she was talking about.”
“One of the things that stuck out to me,” said Alex Poff, “was at the end when he was talking about how we will spend so much money on charities without actually becoming charitable.”At the end of the forum, a time was provided for audience members to ask questions or share their thoughts and experiences.
Audience feedback brought up questions about how we should approach charity, how to stay energetic about doing good works, and the relation between Star Wars and theology.
Claiborne encouraged the audience to approach charity humbly with an apologetic attitude. He gave an example of people who kneel at the feet of beggars and apologize for using so many resources that the beggar did not have.
In general, students enjoyed the events they were able to attend, but were disappointed at not being able to attend more.
“I really wish classes had been cancelled, or if they couldn’t do that, I wish they would have had more events over the weekend,” said Michelle Peachey, reflecting on the day, “Shane said that for Martin Luther King Day we shouldn’t take a day off, rather we should take a day on. I felt like I couldn’t take a day of service while still making it to all of my classes.” Other students suggested that more events be held in the evening or throughout the week.
-Bethany Hench, Sports Co-Editor