LSU Students Help University Celebrate the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
BATON ROUGE – Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Since 1994, when the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act was signed into law, the third Monday of January has been identified as a national day of community service, transforming the civil rights leader’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems.
A group of dedicated LSU students will help to ensure that King’s legacy of leadership, community involvement and service will be celebrated with events throughout the month as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration.
The MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee organizes and plans the celebration’s events. Those events include the MLK Day of Service, the MLK Performing Arts Night, Diverse Dialogues with Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College, and the MLK Commemorative Celebration keynote speaker, which is a joint program with the Black History Month Committee.
“I was excited by the opportunity to work with other LSU students and participate in the events planned by the committee,” said Alexa Austin, a freshman psychology major from Lake Charles. “Students brainstorm ideas for an overall theme and are given leadership opportunities in planning events like the Performing Arts Night and the MLK Day of Service.”
The MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee’s work begins with preparing for the celebration at the start of every fall semester. This year, the 15-member committee met every Monday in the fall in the Student Union.
“Many months of planning and preparation go into the events for the MLK Commemorative Committee,” said Annisia Osborne, chair of the 2012 MLK Commemorative Committee. “In the fall semester, we have meetings every Monday and discuss each program in detail. This period allows us to create and solidify ideas to ensure that our programs in January are successful.”
The process begins with team leaders being selected to oversee the different events during the celebration. This year those team leaders include Janay Henry and Landry Tchokogue, co-team leaders for the Day of Service; ReAzalia Allen and Kina Collins, co-team leaders for the Performing Arts Night; Chenice Samuel, team leader for Diverse Dialogues; and Mikana Scott, team leader for publicity and communications. In addition, two Black History Month liaisons sit on the committee – Erica James and Markita Lewis. After that, the group selects a chair and student coordinator, with Osborne and Jonathan Pugh serving those roles this year respectively.
Once the staff is in place, the planning really begins. The committee must sign people up for the Day of Service and help to select the keynote speaker. The committee members also meet with students at table sits and help recruit new committee members for the next year.
Senior Jonathan Pugh has been involved with the MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee since he learned about the committee in The Daily Reveille as a sophomore.
“I was really involved in high school and did a lot of things with MLK Day and Black History Month, so during my sophomore year I wanted to get involved,” said Pugh, a communication studies major from Beaumont, Texas. “I saw in The Daily Reveille that they were having MLK committee meetings, and I thought it would be a really good opportunity. I love being involved in organizations and since MLK did so much, I figured this would be a good way for me to contribute to the university and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.”
In only his first year on the committee, Pugh was a team leader for the MLK Commemorative Celebration, which saw civil rights activist and University of California at Santa Cruz professor Angela Davis address campus as the keynote speaker.
“My first year I was actually a team leader for the commemorative celebration, which was awesome,” said Pugh. “It was only my first year, but I got to meet Angela Davis and do a lot of amazing things.”
Despite being a first-year student, Austin learned about the opportunity to join the MLK Commemorative Celebration while participating in other groups on campus.
“I learned about the committee through my involvement with LSU’s Black Student Union and the Office of Multicultural Affairs,” said Austin. “The MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee gives students the opportunity to be leaders and participate in honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”
Although it was through her participation with other campus organizations that afforded Austin the opportunity to join the MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee, it was the MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee that opened the door for Pugh to participate in many of the other organizations at LSU.
“The MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee has opened me up to so many more opportunities at LSU, from being on the executive staff of the Student Government to being an LSU Ambassador,” said Pugh. “Being on the committee was really an enlightening process because you learn a lot about yourself and working with different people and being in charge.”
Like Austin, Osborne began her involvement as a freshman, serving as the publications and communications team leader in her first year.
“Initially, my reasons for participating in the MLK Commemorative Committee were that I just wanted to gain more leadership experience and fellowship with the African-American community on campus,” said Osborne, a senior elementary education major from Shreveport. “Once I got involved, I accomplished those goals, began networking with student organizations, and increased communication with departments and administrators on and off campus.”
By serving on the committee, Osborne has helped develop her leadership skills and improve her experience at LSU, while also honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
“Being a part of the committee has helped me in my time at LSU because it has allowed me to be more, do more and give more. I have had many opportunities to work with peers to develop programs that positively impact the students, faculty and staff of LSU and the Baton Rouge community,” said Osborne. “It is also important for LSU to honor and celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because we, as future movers and shakers, have to continue carrying the torch to fight for social justice, equality and diversity. If we do not set the standard and example, Dr. King’s efforts would be in vain, and we would be in constant battle of our rights everyday.”
In addition to honoring one of their heroes, the LSU students who make up the MLK Commemorative Celebration Committee have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills.
“As a freshman, I’ve found that getting involved has allowed me to take on leadership positions while also making a diverse group of friends,” said Austin. “Being involved on campus has also made LSU feel like a home and allowed me to take advantage of the many opportunities LSU offers.”
The 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration will begin at 8 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 16, when members of the university community begin the “Day of Service,” which is co-sponsored with the LSU Community University Partnership. More than 160 LSU students, faculty, staff and administrators will converge on the Old South Baton Rouge community to assist with the revitalization efforts of a house, a community garden and New Ark Baptist Church on Terrance Avenue. Participants will be afforded a hands-on opportunity to aid the local community and promote volunteerism, one of King’s fundamental principles.
“The first event, the MLK ‘Day of Service,’ is a day on and not a day off,” said Pugh. “It is a day that we go to places in Old South Baton Rouge and restore homes and churches. With the ‘Day of Service’ actually being on MLK Day, it’s really cool to see everyone come together and working and doing community service. I feel like it is something MLK would appreciate and respect.”
Following the “Day of Service,” a candlelight vigil and march, sponsored by National Pan-Hellenic Council, will be held to observe Martin Luther King Day. The candlelight vigil will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a short program at the Memorial Tower, and the march will proceed to the LSU Student Union. The program will be held in the spirit of King and the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s to remember those who marched for freedom and the eradication of the ills of society. After the candlelight vigil and march, participants can enjoy a reception in the Live Oak Lounge.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee and the Black History Month Committee will host author, poet, writer, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni for the keynote performance at the MLK Commemorative Celebration. Giovanni is currently the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies and a University Distinguished Professor in the English department at Virginia Tech University. The author of 30 books, she has been awarded 25 honorary degrees, and her books have been awarded honors including three NAACP Image Awards and been in the Top 10 on the New York Times best-seller list. Named the “Woman of the Year” by several publications over the course of her career, she was also recently named one of Oprah Winfrey’s 25 “living legends.” Following the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy in 2007, she was selected to close out the memorial convocation and did so with a powerful chant-poem. Giovanni’s address is free and open to the public and will take place beginning at 6 p.m. at the Manship Theatre.
“We’re super excited about having Nikki Giovanni this year,” said Pugh. “She is just amazing. She will speak and then we will have a question and answer session afterwards, which is really exciting.”
The MLK Performing Arts Night, one of the most anticipated events of the MLK Celebration, will be held on Thursday, Jan. 26, beginning at 6 p.m., in the Cotillion Ballroom in the Student Union. King’s impending legacy has long been associated with his means of creative expression as an orator, a reverend and a civil rights activist. The MLK Performing Arts Night, which is free and open to the public, will allow LSU students to celebrate the life and legacy of King through poetry, dance and musical expression.
The MLK Commemorative Celebration concludes on Wednesday, Feb. 1, as LSU, Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College host “Diverse Dialogues,” at 6 p.m. in the Magnolia Performing Arts Theatre at Baton Rouge Community College. “Diverse Dialogues” will feature faculty and student panelists from LSU, Southern University and Baton Rouge Community College.
Through his work with the MLK Commemorative Committee, Pugh has gained a better understanding and appreciation of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and is very proud to be involved in honoring his legacy.
“Working with the MLK Commemorative Committee has definitely helped me appreciate MLK more and how instrumental he was during his time,” said Pugh. “Especially as an African-American community, he is one of the people that I really look up to. It’s important to give back and honor his legacy to make sure that everything he did wasn’t in vain and that we are still living his dream.”
Austin is also honored to be working to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and knows that many of the opportunities she now has were earned through the struggles of King and other Civil Rights pioneers. And, with the opportunity for her to pursue a higher education degree at LSU, Austin is contributing to the diversity of the university and helping to achieve King’s dream.
“Martin Luther King Jr. not only enabled me to enjoy a wonderful education and countless other opportunities, but he also represents the importance of making a positive impact on others,” said Austin. “As a large and diverse institution, LSU represents the legacy of MLK. Minority students, like myself, are able to enjoy an education equal to their counterparts.”
The 2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration is coordinated by the LSU Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee and the Black History Month Committee. For more information contact the LSU Office of Multicultural Affairs at 225-578-4339, or visit www.lsu.edu/oma.