By Cole Schieders, Staff Writer
In honor of Dr. King’s life and legacy, the Student Life Office sponsored the Second Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Unity March and Program. In addition to the march and program, four nominees for the 2020 Dr. MLK Distinguished Service Award were selected by students for their commitment to living out the values of both Dr. King and the mission of Newman University.
Dr. Natalie Grant, field education director and associate professor in the Bachelor of Social Work, won the 2020 award. Her nominator wrote, “Dr. Grant’s personal and professional commitments to social justice, equity, inclusion, nonviolence and service are distinctive and heavily inspired by the work, philosophy, and service of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
Other nominees, honored at the conclusion of the program, included Dr. Sonja Bontrager, assistant professor of Spanish, Dr. Yelonda Johnson, director of the Bachelor of Social Work and assistant professor, and Paola Nunez, admissions counselor and member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Joseph Shepard, Director of Multicultural Engagement and Student Life, welcomed the crowd of students, staff, faculty and guests inside the De Mattias Hall Atrium. He invited participants to silently walk to St. John’s Chapel with linked arms.
“That silence,” Shepard said, “is going to pay homage to those who lost their lives fighting for what they believe in, fighting for equality and fighting for justice. But more importantly, we are walking in silence to reflect on the justice that we need to fight for, even in 2020.”
Following a prayer led by Fr. Adam Grelinger, chaplain, Shepard opened the program by remarking on the similarities between the mission of Newman University and Dr. MLK.
“The Newman University Code is a true testament to our commitment to diversity, equity, justice, and inclusion,” he said. “It is no secret to those who are a part of our community at NU that our mission as a Catholic institution is to provide each student and each member of our community with the tools to transform society. It’s what separates us from other institutions. It is the Newman difference.”
Junior Gabrielle Altenor shared a reflection on Loretta Scott King, Dr. King’s wife, as one of the hidden figures of the civil rights movement.
“I turn your attention to the fact that all our [2020 Dr. MLK Distinguished Service Award nominees] are women,” Altenor said. “Just as Scott King influenced her husband’s activism, so too do these women influence the campus and community.”
Roy Moye III, an urban gospel artist who recently appeared on BET’s Sunday Best, performed Sam Cooke’s “Change is Gonna Come,” ending with a belted refrain, “But I know a change is gonna come.”
President of the Black Student Union, Taty’terria Gary presented the keynote speaker, Dr. Yelonda Johnson.
“My intention here today is to remind of us Dr. King’s legacy, connect our past with our present, and then to offer some suggestions for what we can do now,” Johnson said. “Dr. Martin Luther King was a patriot… a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies. The enemies that he fought were those of racist and segregationist ideals.”
Johnson warned that Dr. King’s legacy and work must continue even to today, especially against injustices like voter suppression, mass incarceration, education equity and immigration reform. She urged students to step in their power to effect change by voting, writing to legislators, and making a stand online and in person.
“[Dr. King] would continue to push our country to respect the dignity and worth of every human being, no matter where they fall...He would ask us to speak up and speak out in the face of injustice. In addition, he would demand that each one of us do our part, do what is right, and do it well... Let us rise together, hand in hand, for this progress and to further the legacy of Dr. King in the 21st century.”
PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, washington.org