On Jan. 12-16, Maryville College hosted a five-day event in celebration of Martin Luther King Day. The event is an annual celebration that MC has participated in for over two decades.
According to director of multicultural affairs and Voices of Praise Larry Ervin, the week’s festivities are an important way in which MC celebrates its long history of acceptance and multiculturalism in education.
“Really from the very beginning, MC was devoted to diversity,” Ervin said. “Our founding father, Isaac Anderson, is famous for educating everybody.
“The school divided its endowment with a school in Rogersville and sent all its black students there. So, Maryville College was still involved in educating the black students in TN.”
The event began on Thursday, Jan. 12, with an event held at New Providence Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m., including a speech entitled, “Dr. King’s Principles, Post 9-11.”
On Friday, Rev. Charles Maynard spoke at a business luncheon held at the Airport Hilton. That night, “The Help,” a recent film based on the bestselling book by Kathryn Stockett which addresses the injustices suffered by black housekeepers in the 1960s, was shown in the Lambert Recital Hall on the MC campus.
The highlight of Saturday’s events was a concert held at 8 p.m. in the CCA’s Ronald and Linda Nutt Theatre featuring the American Spiritual Ensemble. The ensemble was established in 1995 in an attempt to preserve the American Negro spiritual. The group featured 20 members with experience ranging from famous opera houses to Broadway.
Sunday’s events included a community worship service at First United Methodist Church in Maryville. Rev. Latisha Reeves of Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Knoxville was the keynote speaker for the service.
Reeves’ sermon was entitled “Are We There Yet?” and focused on how far America has come in the fight for civil rights and how far it has yet to go.
The MLK Mass Choir performed at the service. The choir is made up of members from over seven area churches and included the Maryville College gospel choir, VOP.
On Monday, classes were cancelled beginning at 10:30 a.m. to allow students to attend the MLK student event on campus. VOP performed several songs and members of VOP and the Black Student Association sang solos and read original compositions.
Dr. Rodney King of Rochester, N.Y., also spoke at the event.
According to president of VOP and the BSA Onyekachi Ononye, students and professors alike were moved by King’s speech.
“[King] is an eloquent speaker,” Ononye said. “MLK Day is a time when visionaries can have a platform to spout their visions again.”
Ononye received feedback which indicated that she was not alone in her esteem of the guest speaker.
“One of my teachers, who is from Argentina, came up to me and said, ‘Who is that guy? He brought me to tears.’”
As a member of Student Association and VOP Brian Bush explained, the weekend was especially poignant for many members of the Black Student Association, who had planned the event for almost a year.
“Saturday afternoon we went to a place called the Beck [Cultural Exchange] Center in Knoxville,” Bush said. “You wouldn’t believe the things I found out about black history that I had no idea occurred in Tennessee, specifically in Knoxville.”
Although the event was moving for those in attendance, many felt that there was a lack of support for the event from both students and professors.
“There’s so many in this generation who feel that MLK Day doesn’t apply to them,” Ervin said. “They feel like they’ve arrived. I feel like it is just as important to learn, to observe, to be exposed as any class we teach on this campus.”
According to Ononye, the BSA’s general attitude towards the attendance policy for the event is that it should be mandatory.
“I think it’s one of those things that need to be made compulsory, just because there’s not enough education about black history beside what you get from the media.”
The annual march began at 12:30 p.m. at the MLK Center in Maryville to the CCA on the MC campus. Those who went on the march joined others in the Nutt Theatre for the MLK Day Program at 2 p.m.
“I think students really enjoyed this year’s presentation and ceremony because it was a very positive message,” Bush said.
Instead of featuring a guest speaker, the planning committee decided to have the leaders of five community organizations speak at the event, in remembrance of King’s vision of community service.
The five-day celebration was one of remembrance but also of looking ahead.
As Ervin explained, resting in the assurance of how far Maryville has come prompts the community to continue reaching forward with perseverance toward King’s dream of achieving equal rights for all peoples.
“His efforts weren’t just about black people; they were about people in general,” Ervin said. “Even in his death, there is victory.”