It’s not a day off—it’s a day on. That is the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the University of Redlands, where January 20 marks the finale of more than a week of events celebrating the work and legacy of the civil rights leader.
This year’s commemoration was planned by a steering committee representing voices from across the University.
“The committee's mission was to celebrate the legacy and tenets set forth by Dr. King through servant leadership, community engagement, and service,” said Chris Barnes, resident director of Anderson Hall who chaired the group. “The events offered during MLK week all spoke to one of these three areas.”
Starting with service
Two opportunities to advance King’s goals were organized by U of R’s Community Service Learning (CSL). On Sunday, January 12, almost 100 volunteers from across campus packaged more than 10,150 meals for Rise Against Hunger, an international hunger relief nonprofit that coordinates the packaging and distribution of food and other aid to people in developing countries.
The following day, about 20 no-sew blankets were made for Get on the Bus, a program of the Center for Restorative Justice Works that unites children and families separated by crime and the criminal justice system. The blankets are provided as a comfort item to children traveling by bus to see a parent who is incarcerated.
“Dr. King had a vision of a beloved community and, here at the University of Redlands, we believe in honoring his memory through service,” said Justine Doyle ’18, a graduate intern in CSL and member of the steering committee for MLK week events. “MLK Day is a national day of service, and it has always been important for our office to provide opportunities for students to have a ‘day on’ to serve.”
On Tuesday, January 14, students and guests lined up to get a free hug from Ken Nwadike Jr., founder of the Free Hugs Project, who shared the story of his journey from living in a homeless shelter to becoming a nationally recognized activist and peacemaker. He made national headlines at the 2014 Boston Marathon, one year after the 2013 bombing. Failing by seconds to qualify for the race but determined to somehow participate, Nwadike put on a shirt that read “free hugs” and stood along the route, ready to hug any runner for encouragement.
“I wanted to be an example of love,” he said. The response was overwhelming, and laid the foundation for his peace work. In addition to giving motivational talks, Nwadike shows up at rallies, protests, demonstrations and riots, often putting himself in harm’s way to de-escalate tensions between law enforcement and community.
“How many people are going to stand in the middle? To be a buffer, to remind people to be decent to one another … that we are all human.”
Nwadike ended his talk by sharing his five steps for those who want to create change: 1) turn tragedies into testimonies; 2) don’t wait for a leader, become one; 3) form a team; 4) lead with love; and 5) cheer each other on.
Speeches, poetry, and posters
Students also had an opportunity to hear the speeches of King played in Hunsaker Lounge and to explore their ideas of peace through poster making and a spoken dream poetry workshop hosted by Diversity Initiatives.
“Spoken word poetry offers everyone the opportunity to speak their authentic truths and listen full heartedly to things that might be hard to talk about,” said Magdalena Sanchez ’21, a master’s student who guided the event and served on the steering committee. “I hope that all participants left this experience with empathy and insight into each other’s experiences and are reminded of the relevance of MLK's legacy today.”
Annual Sunday Service
On Sunday, January 19, U of R held its annual MLK Celebration Service followed by the U of R Black Student Union-hosted candlelight vigil to remember the victims of hate crimes.
The service featured University Chapel Singers and Bel Canto choirs singing music from the gospel and spiritual traditions, as well as reflections from Chaplain John Walsh, Peter Tupou of U of R Religious Life and Diversity and Inclusion, and others.
“I think it's important to have this service as it allows for two things,” Tupou said. “Things that are not yet done — the dream is not yet a lived reality — and secondly this helps bring us together to do the work of justice together; it allows for our community to reflect upon our similarities and to build stronger bonds on the common goals of justice.”
On the morning of January 20, the weeklong celebration culminated with more than 100 faculty, administrators, students, staff, and members of the community gathering at the Administration Building steps to walk for peace.
Before embarking across campus, University of Redlands President Ralph W. Kuncl asked the group to spend a moment envisioning what it would be like if King, who would now be 91 years old, was among them. “What would he say about his ‘dream’ from a half-century ago?” Kuncl asked. “What is your situation in life, and how is that different because of him? … What work is left for you and me? Was it merely one man’s dream, or can you and I do something to make it a reality?”
As the group made its across the campus over the next hour, it stopped several times to hear music, poems, and remarks. At the end, Kendrick Brown, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, encouraged participants to reflect on what they felt during the march and the reason for coming together.
“Because we are diverse, we have many different ideas about the right way to live our lives,” Brown said. “We have different views on how our country should look and what our world needs to be a better place. Our diversity brings a wealth of differences that can surprise and jolt us at times. However, we need to always remember that in our diversity lies our strength.
“When we have events like this Peace Walk, we show that, in our diversity, we share important bonds. We share: a common commitment to having a better world; a dedication to honor our collective appreciation for justice and peace; and a realization that our diversity enables us to feel a strength when we are together that we may not always feel when we are alone.”