MLK Jr. Celebration Annual Dinner headlines week of commemoration events

Each year, the days following the observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday are full of events designed to honor the civil rights leader’s vision. For the 2017 celebration at Western Oregon University, there are five activities planned for students, faculty, staff and the community that aim to do just that.

The main event will be the MLK Jr. Celebration dinner Wednesday, Jan. 18. Held in the Werner University Center, the dinner will feature keynote speaker Lasana Omar Hotep, an essayist, educator and entrepreneur known for his entertaining and inspiring presentations. Hotep’s engaging style challenges listeners to think critically about cultural identity and equality in education.

“Those of us on the 2017 MLK planning committee watched a lot of clips, and his really just stood out,” said Affie Eyo-Idahor, assistant director of Multicultural Student Services & Programs. “We wanted to focus this year on global issues and how they pertain on a local level. Lasana talks about social justice, which ties in to what we are doing during the week.”

The dinner is open to students and the general public. Tickets are $3 for students and $5 for general admission. The Pacific Room doors will open at 5:45 p.m., and the program will begin at 6 p.m. More information about Hotep’s background, writings and work as an education professional can be found on his website.

Students don’t have to wait until Jan. 16 to get involved with the MLK Jr. commemoration. The annual essay contest invites students to reflect on King’s mission and legacy in a way that’s personal to them, and submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. Jan. 13. The inspiration quote offered as a prompt for essay writers is from King’s 1963 missive “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.”

The winner of the writing contest will be invited to read his or her essay at the MLK Jr. Celebration dinner, and the top three writers will receive gift certificates for use at the WOU bookstore.

Eyo-Idahor said the essay contest is particularly popular among undergraduates, who share personal insights about what King’s vision means in their lives.

“It is great to hear directly from students,” she said. “Their perspective inspires the committee when we are making plans for future events.”

Essay submissions can be dropped off in Room 212 in the Werner University Center office or emailed to before the deadline.

Many people throughout the nation choose to dedicate the official MLK Jr. holiday to a day of community service. WOU students and local community members are invited to make a difference Jan. 16 by volunteering for a Marion-Polk Food Share service project. Volunteers will clean garden boxes and spread wood chips in preparation for springtime planting in a food-share garden.

Transportation will be provided for volunteers at 12:30 p.m. Monday, and the work session is slated for 1 to 4 p.m. Participants should expect to get dirty working outdoors and must submit a volunteer form before the event.