MLK Celebration Week at WOU Promotes Black Excellence Through Storytelling

MLK week banner

Western Oregon University’s week of activities celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is Jan. 17-21. I interviewed Alexis Larson, a member of the 2022 MLK Jr. Celebration Week Planning Committee, about the inspiration of the events of the week. The overarching theme of this year’s celebration is promoting Black excellence through storytelling.

Black and white student portraits
Some of the portraits in “Dear Western Oregon University”.

On Jan. 18, there will be an exhibition of black and white student portraits titled Dear Western Oregon University at the Werner University Center Gallery. Larson says “The idea is that the black and white student portraits will be an introduction to the students’ story. The portraits that are being shared in the gallery are of students who are also doing a video reflection later in the week. That’s why we ended up landing on Dear Western Oregon University: it’s the ‘letter opener’ to the conversation that we’re hoping to get started.”

The following day, those video reflections will be posted to wou.edu/mlk as part of the Sincerely event. Larson says the inspiration behind this was to “give some of our students the opportunity to share their stories, again, circling back to the way it’s written like a letter, and really encourage that story sharing in our campus community”.

Dr. Reginald Richardson
Dr. Reginald Richardson, president of the Salem-Keizer NAACP, will be the keynote speaker. Photo credit: Abigail Dollins / Statesman Journal

Finally, on Jan. 20, there will be the keynote address A Conversation with Dr. Reginald Richardson, president of the Salem-Keizer NAACP at 6:30 p.m. in the Columbia Room of the WUC.

“We’re all very excited to have Dr. Richardson coming,” Larson said. “It’s a good opportunity to create a bridge between Western and the NAACP chapter that’s closest to the university. We’re hoping that will get the conversation started and that it will continue.”

Larson said the planning committee wanted to use the week to lift up WOU’s Black student population by giving them an opportunity to share their personal stories. 

“We’re trying to create a platform for those opportunities without singling out anyone in particular; like creating a stage. Especially given the climate in the nation right now, it’s important to take a step back and realize that, although people are working together toward a common goal, every individual still has a unique story,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to bring it back to. Every human is having their own individual experience. Even if two people are having the same sort of situation, the way that they’re experiencing that is going to be totally different. It circles back to promoting storytelling and sharing and just being open to hearing other people’s experiences and how things might impact them.”

Visit wou.edu/mlk to learn more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week and to donate to the BSU Scholarship Fundraiser, which seeks to raise $2,022 for the 2022 year! A match donation will be made if the goal is met. 

 

2 comments on “MLK Celebration Week at WOU Promotes Black Excellence Through Storytelling”

  1. Sincerely… Sensational! I have gratitude for the speakers and all who supported the production of Sincerely. Well done…especially to the courageous folks who shared their stories, opinions and perspectives. As a white person on a lifelong journey to learn, grow and continue to be an ally to persons and communities of color, I appreciate opportunities (like Sincerely) that help me to better understand the experiences of WOUs Black students. This is the overwhelming message (which I 100% agree) that I received from watching Sincerely: WOU clearly needs to do a better job of increasing staff, faculty and students of color. WOU must not let the difficulty of that endeavor be an excuse for not making it happen.

  2. I also appreciated the thoughtful, honest, and compelling ideas, experiences, and calls to action shared by the students in “Sincerely . . .” We hear you. We see you. And we also know this university can and needs to do better for the sake of all of us.

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