The Rev. Sharon Washington Risher with a portrait of her mother, who was among nine black worshippers killed by a white supremacist at a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Risher will speak at 10:15 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15 in Lehman Auditorium as part of Eastern Mennonite University's Martin Luther King Jr. Day events. (Courtesy photo)

Sharon Washington Risher to speak as part of EMU’s week of MLK remembrance

The Rev. Sharon Washington Risher knows hate: Among the nine black worshippers killed by a white supremacist at a prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015, were her mother, two cousins and a childhood friend.

Risher will speak during a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day chapel service as part of Eastern Mennonite University’s “MLK Week” observance of the national holiday. The service is at 10:15 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15 in Lehman Auditorium, and is free and open to the public.

A chaplain and trauma specialist at Parkland Hospital of Dallas, Texas, and former associate pastor, Risher has advocated with the anti-gun lobby Everytown for Gun Safety. She has been featured by CNN, Time Magazine, and elsewhere. The Washington Post reported that Risher told the murderer before he received his death sentence, “I still don’t want you to die. I want you to be able to sit in that cell. You have made [your victims] martyrs. You have made them the face of America. You have given me a voice and a platform I never would have had to crusade for them.”

Hearing Risher’s story and “seeing how she shows compassion even when it’s easier to hate” is a perfect fit for honoring King, said Tae Dews, Black Student Union co-president and MLK Week committee member. “A lot of hate was shown towards him, but he continuously showed compassion. That is just something that we can do as human beings, and as Christians it’s something that we can work on.”

Risher will also speak in the Sunday morning service at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 11 a.m. on Jan. 14.

MLK Week spans Jan. 10-15 at EMU, with a variety of activities culminating with the national holiday and chapel observance on Monday. Scroll down for specific dates, times and locations of events, including a religious diversity workshop, mix-it-up lunch, film showing, chapel reading circles of MLK speeches and sermons, a service project, a barbershop talk and Harriet Tubman Museum visit, and more.

Read “This I Believe” statements from EMU students in Professor Melody Pannell’s fall 2017 race and gender class.

An appeal to engage: “It still continues”

The week’s events will appeal to people differently, said Celeste Thomas, faculty advisor to BSU and director of multicultural services. “Some of us are sit-back-and-watchers, others of us dive in the deep end first, and others put a toe in and decide. I hope that people challenge themselves beyond whatever seat they sit in, and open their minds to ways of thinking that they have not before.”

The week’s theme “Just Stand” is based on a quote from King’s 1963 Strength to Love book of homilies: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“It’s a big quote,” Thomas said. “It’s very fitting for where we are and what’s happening in the world today. We have to leave our comfort zones in order for things to change.” The question, she said, is “How can people be present in the movement today? Because the work must continue, to ensure that all people feel safe in this country.”

The week in brief

  • Jan. 10: Religious diversity workshop, hosted by the Center for Interfaith Engagement, in the West Dining Hall, Northlawn (11:45 a.m.-1:15 p.m.);
  • Jan. 11: “Mix It Up” lunch in the EMU cafeteria (11 a.m.-1 p.m.), designed to encourage students, faculty and staff to have lunch and conversation with persons they aren’t as familiar with to identify question and discuss social justice issues that affect us all. The goal is to hear from others with different views in an effort to bridge cultural boundaries to dialogue about social justice issues that affect everyone. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, launched the Mix It Up program in 2002.
  • Jan. 12: Chapel reading circle of King speeches and sermons in Lehman Auditorium (10-10:30 a.m.) and evening service project at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 184 Kelley St., in northeast Harrisonburg;
  • Jan. 13: Visit to the Harriet Tubman Museum (10-11:00 a.m.) and a barbershop talk at Tyrone Sprague’s Barber Shop, 442 North Mason St. (11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.);
  • Jan. 14: Community church service featuring the Rev. Risher at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, 184 Kelley St. (11 a.m.), tour of Dallard/Newman house 192 Kelley St. (12:30 p.m.), and community luncheon (for church attendees) at John Wesley United Methodist Church, 455 Sterling St. (1 p.m.);
  • Jan. 15: Solidarity march from Thomas Plaza to Lehman Auditorium (10 a.m.), chapel service featuring Rev. Risher (10:15-11:15 a.m.), meet and greet reception in the Martin Greeting Hall, Campus Center (11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks showing and talkback in Campus Center room 104 (3:45 p.m.);

See EMU’s MLK website for any changes/updates to the schedule as well as community programs in greater Harrisonburg.

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