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BU will honor the birthday of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) with several events spanning more than a week, among them a special Marsh Chapel service, a remembrance ceremony featuring comedian and social commentator W. Kamau Bell and US Senator Edward Markey (Hon.’04) (D-Mass.), discussions on King’s legacy of nonviolent resistance, and a classical piano recital. This year also happens to be the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 US Supreme Court decision that declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
King—who was assassinated in April 1968—would have been 85 on January 15. This year the official federal holiday commemorating his birth is Monday, January 20. The University’s annual observance will begin Sunday, January 19, with a service at Marsh Chapel conducted by Marsh Chapel Dean Robert Allan Hill. Walter Fluker (GRS’88), the Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Ethical Leadership at the School of Theology, will deliver the sermon, titled The Welcome Table: Welcoming the Unwelcomed. The Marsh Chapel Choir, led by music director Scott Allen Jarrett (CFA’99,’08), will perform several African American hymns and spirituals during the service.
The Marsh Chapel service is at 11 a.m., Sunday, January 19, at Marsh Chapel, 735 Commonwealth Ave. The service is free and open to the public; it will also be broadcast live on WBUR and can be downloaded as a podcast from Marsh Chapel’s website.
A group of Methodist students from the School of Theology has organized a day of community service on Monday to honor the original meaning of MLK Day. With the time King was jailed because of his civil rights work in mind, the students plan to work with the Boston-based organization Black and Pink, which advocates for incarcerated members of the LGBTQ community and seeks to draw attention to the violence LGBTQ people face in prison. The STH students chose to support this organization after United Methodist Church pastor Frank Schaefer was convicted in a church trial for performing a marriage ceremony for his gay son. Schaefer was defrocked last month following the trial.
“One group of United Methodist seminarians at Boston University are not content with this position of their denomination,” says event organizer Colin Cushman (STH’15). “We intend to voice our disapproval of ‘the climate of church trials’ as regards this issue. Rather, we advocate for the full inclusion of LGBTQ members in the church.”
On Monday, the students will read letters from prisoners and enter their information in an electronic database that is preserved on the Black and Pink website. Cushman hopes the day of service will be both a “concrete symbol of our support of the LGBTQ community” and a “message to the United Methodist Church that those currently training to be pastors in the denomination are discontented with the culture of church trials.”
The day of service begins at 10 a.m. at the Black and Pink offices, 614 Columbia Rd., Boston. Find more information and sign up here.
At 2 p.m. on Monday, the University will hold its annual remembrance ceremony. Titled From Inner Strength to a Revolution of Hope: Reflections on Martin Luther King’s Day, the event is one of Boston’s largest MLK Day ceremonies, routinely drawing more than 1,000 people from BU and beyond. The University’s commemoration dates back to before the holiday was first officially recognized by federal and state governments 28 years ago.
This year’s ceremony, organized by the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground and the Dean of Students Office, will take a critical look at the strength and modern attitude needed when approaching issues of race and inequality, and specifically, the ways our current culture explores those issues via satire and music. “This MLK Day is about finding a new take on the issues with satire and humor,” says Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), who will be among the speakers. “I don’t want to have a dusty commemoration. I want to look at the issues differently and with a fresh take. I want to find a way to have a successful reflection that speaks to us all in a way that we are having some of our best current-day political discourse—through humor.”
With that in mind, one of the speakers will be comedian and social commentator W. Kamau Bell. Bell hosts the late night FXX show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and cohosts the podcast The Field Negro Guide to Arts & Culture. The Roxbury Youth Orchestra, BU Hip Hop, and the Inner Strength Gospel Choir will also perform.
From Inner Strength to a Revolution of Hope: Reflections on Martin Luther King’s Day is at 2 p.m. on Monday, January 20, in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.
On Wednesday, January 22, the Medical Campus will commemorate King’s legacy by reflecting on the life of South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died last month. Like King, Mandela fought to achieve racial equality through nonviolent protests. The BU community is invited to hear Ravin Davidoff, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and chief medical officer of Boston Medical Center, speak about his journey from being a “blissfully unaware,” privileged white South African to someone inspired and enlightened by King and Mandela. A brief classical piano performance by concert pianist Moisès Fernández Via, project curator and researcher for the Medical Campus and College of Fine Arts collaborative Arts Outreach Initiative, will follow.
The Medical Campus Martin Luther King, Jr., Birthday Celebration is at noon on Wednesday, January 22, in the Hiebert Lounge, 14th floor, MED Instructional Building, 72 East Concord St. Refreshments will be served. The event is free and open to all faculty, students, and staff.
Finally, on Tuesday, January 28, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (HGARC) will present a discussion and exhibition titled Bold Determination: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, part of its Student Discovery Seminars series (HGARC is a repository of King’s personal archive). One of the seminal events of the civil rights movement, the boycott began in December 1955, after African American Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat for a white person. King, who led the boycott, was jailed for two weeks. His imprisonment helped bring national attention to the case, and in 1956, the US Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation on buses was unconstitutional.
Students will be able to hold and examine original documents such as drafts of MLK’s speeches during the yearlong boycott and letters from Parks and civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph. Fluker and Ryan Hendrickson, HGARC assistant director for manuscripts, will be on hand to talk about and answer guests’ questions about the archival material on display.
Bold Determination: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery Bus Boycott is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 28, in the HGARC Reading Room, Mugar Memorial Library, 771 Commonwealth Ave., fifth floor. The event is free and open to the public. Find out more about the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s MLK collection here.