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BU Marks MLK Day on Monday

Oscar winner Forest Whitaker to speak at one event


This year’s national celebration marking the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) holds special significance for several reasons. First, it coincides with the second inauguration of Barack Obama, America’s 44th president and the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office. The president will pay tribute to King on Monday by taking the oath of office on two Bibles rather than the customary one: he will use a bible that once belonged to President Abraham Lincoln and one that belonged to King.

Also, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, arguably one of the greatest orations in American history. And 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Here on campus, BU has planned a number of events to celebrate one of its most famous alums, including a special service at Marsh Chapel, a remembrance ceremony, a talk by Oscar-winning actor and humanitarian Forest Whitaker, and discussions on King’s legacy. Events will take place across the Charles River Campus.

King, who was assassinated in 1968, would have turned 84 January 15. This year the official federal holiday commemorating his birth is Monday, January 21, but the University’s annual observance will begin with a service at Marsh Chapel on Sunday, 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 Fifty Years Later. The Marsh Chapel Choir, led by Marsh Chapel music director Scott Allen Jarrett (CFA’99,’08), will perform several African American hymns and spirituals during the service.

The service will take place at 11 a.m. on Sunday, January 20, at Marsh Chapel, 735 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to the public. The service will also be broadcast live on WBUR and can be downloaded as a podcast from Marsh Chapel’s website.

On Monday, the University will hold its annual remembrance ceremony, titled this year MLK Day 2013: Lyrics, commemorating King’s birthday immediately following the presidential inauguration, about 1 p.m. 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 27 years ago.

The 2013 ceremony will reflect on how words have shaped the civil rights movement in general, and more specifically, how King’s words have left a lasting legacy. “King pushes us to think about what words matter to us,” says Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), who will be among the speakers. “On Monday, we want to go beyond the words of King that we always hear.” One way Elmore and other organizers plan to do that is by asking selected students to share words and lyrics that have inspired them.

Chelsea Roberts (COM’14), Swanson Ninan (CAS’15), Daniel Lopez (CAS’13), and Marlene Kalb (CAS’16) will speak about speeches and writing that have personal resonance for them. Kalb’s speech, for instance, will focus on the writings of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the 17th-century Spanish nun and scholar who taught herself to read and write at a time when women were mostly illiterate. Today, she is hailed as one of the earliest writers in Mexican literature.

In addition to Elmore and the student speakers, the cast of the Underground Railway Theatre will present a scene from Katori Hall’s play The Mountaintop, a fictional depiction of King’s last night, which the theater is currently staging in Cambridge. The play debuted on Broadway in 2011, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett.

Martin Luther King Jr, Forest Whitaker, Howard Therman Center, George Sherman Union

Actor and director Forest Whitaker will deliver the fourth Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Lecture at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center on Monday, January 21. Photo by Stephen Lovekin

Monday’s MLK remembrance ceremony will also feature piano music performed by Herbert Jones, director of the Inner Strength Gospel Choir, and comments by Rabbi Michael Beyo, acting executive director of BU’s Florence and Chafetz Hillel House. The ceremony is organized by the Howard Thurman Center and the Dean of Students Office and will be broadcast live using BU’s channel on UStream.

MLK Day 2013: Lyrics is open to the public and will take place at 1 p.m. (or immediately following the inauguration) on Monday, January 21, in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom.

Later in the afternoon, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center (HGARC) will host actor and director Forest Whitaker, who won an Oscar in 2006 for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Whitaker, who is also a noted humanitarian and social activist, will deliver the fourth Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Lecture. Whitaker will also be invested during the event as a HGARC Martin Luther King, Jr., Fellow. The Gotlieb Center holds an important collection of MLK papers.

Whitaker has used film to increase public consciousness about several important humanitarian issues. He produced the documentary Kassim the Dream, about a Ugandan child soldier turned world championship boxer. His film Rising from Ashes profiles survivors of the Rwandan genocide, and Peabody Award winner Brick City explores inner-city life in Newark, N.J.

He is also the founder of PeaceEarth Foundation, cofounder and chair of the International Institute for Peace, and a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation.

The Gotlieb Center is the repository of Whitaker’s personal archive, and an exhibition of his material will be on display.

The Martin Luther King, Jr., Leadership Lecture by Forest Whitaker will be held at 4 p.m. on Monday, January 21, in the George Sherman Union Metcalf Ballroom. The event is free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, January 23, the Gotlieb Center will present a discussion and exhibition titled Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington: Looking Back 50 Years, part of the center’s Student Discovery Seminars series.

Students will be able to hold original documents, including some of King’s sermons and letters that played a role in the formation of the March on Washington. The event will feature Walter Fluker (GRS’88), STH’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Professor of Ethical Leadership, and Ryan Hendrickson, HGARC assistant director for manuscripts, who will be on hand to talk about and answer guests’ questions about the archival material on display.

Martin Luther King, Jr., and the March on Washington: Looking Back 50 Years will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, January 23, in the HGARC Reading Room, 771 Commonwealth Ave., fifth floor. Find out more about the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center’s MLK collection here.

Find a list of other events happening in Boston to commemorate the day here.

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

3 Comments on BU Marks MLK Day on Monday

  • JO Welch on 01.18.2013 at 6:28 pm

    Both events will have ASL Interpreters and CART access available.

  • Cynthia( Dunn) Walker on 01.18.2013 at 10:22 pm

    I covered the 1963 March on Washington for the BU News. I was the Managing Editor. The photographer who was supposed to go got sick and told them to send me. It was the hugest moment in my life to stand and hear MLK speak and to feel the thrill of the crowds that day. Thank you BU News for this opportunity!

    • Ace on 01.20.2013 at 2:05 am

      That’s amazing!!

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