The class schedule was adjusted and a civil rights expert spoke as in previous years, but things were a little bit different during the University of Indianapolis Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Jan. 20.
This year, the university’s MLK Day celebration included a reenactment of the 1963 March on Washington before a speech by former Indianapolis City-County Council member Rozelle Boyd at 11 a.m. in Ransburg Auditorium. That evening, gospel singer Marvin Sapp and two spoken-word poets performed in the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall.
A diversity and inclusion task force of faculty and students, including senior communication major and Indianapolis Student Government President DyNishia Miller, planned the events.
“I really tried to think about the students when we were planning this entire day, like how to get students involved,” she said. “Because it’s great to have a speaker there, but is that speaker really getting through to the students?”
The mock march started just before the convocation, and the marchers eventually made their way into the auditorium and set their signs in front of the stage. The signs were true replicas of those carried during the 1963 march, bearing slogans such as “What is Christian about racial discrimination?” and “Freedom Now!”
After UIndy’s gospel choir, the Voices of Worship, sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” Chaplain and Director of the Lantz Center for Christian Vocations and Formation Jeremiah Gibbs gave an invocation.
President Robert Manuel then spoke about how the celebration was designed to show students the milieu in which King delivered his famous speech and its lasting impact.
“There’s a lot of what Dr. Martin Luther [King] did in the 60s which allows me to live the life that I live today,” he said. “And I hope that you find the opportunity to experience those connections as well.”
Manuel then introduced Co-President of the Black Student Association Kyra Monroe, a junior mechanical engineering and Spanish major, who performed her spoken-word piece entitled “Take Me Home.”
Next, Director of the Institute for Civic Leadership and the Mayoral Archives and Associate Professor of History and Political Science Edward Frantz presented a historian’s perspective on King’s life and work. Frantz said that it is important to remember that King was only 26 when Rosa Parks was arrested in 1955 and 34 when he delivered his most famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963. Frantz also said that King’s views were not popular in his time, and definitely not mainstream.
According to Frantz, though, the civil rights movement was not just one person but an amalgam of students, war veterans, politicians, common people and children.
“Like Dr. King, they looked beyond their immediate personal lives and envisioned a better America,” he said. “Dr. King knew that he was a mouthpiece and a symbol of that spirit, and it is that spirit that we summon every January when we reflect on Dr. King, his leadership and the hopes and dreams of all who wish to improve the world in which they live.”
After Frantz, senior criminal justice major and Co-President of BSA Deondra Billingsley introduced the keynote speaker. According to her, Boyd was the first African-American elected to the Indianapolis City-County Council and the longest serving member.
An Indianapolis native, Boyd studied at Crispus Attucks High School, then briefly attended Indiana Central University before transferring to Butler University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in history and political science.
Boyd earned a master’s degree from Indiana University in Bloomington and later was a professor and dean there.
Much of Boyd’s speech focused on being aware of suffering and injustice in the world, even if those injustices do not directly affect you.
“He [King] said you have got to be very, very much concerned, very, very much aware of what’s going on around us,” he said. “And if you become unaware of what is going on around us, then you start setting the table for some devastating things to happen.”
According to Boyd, events such as UIndy’s MLK Day celebration help remind people that King and the civil rights movement were not that long ago, even if they feel long gone.
“There may be a need for many of us—folk like myself, representing my generation—to stay on the job so to speak and to keep reminding folks that this is not ancient history,” he said. “… That’s our charge, I think. That’s our charge.”
Billingsley said the charge for her generation is to know about world events and important things that happened in the past, such as the civil rights movement.
“I think all of the students should know about our past history,” she said. “I feel like we don’t have any future if we don’t know about the past.”
Miller said that she was pleased with the convocation, especially when Boyd made a positive comment about the recreated protest signs. Contributing to the day, she said, was a way to look back at those who came before her and work for those who will come after her.
“I always compare my life to the lives of those before me in how fortunate I am,” she said. “And so he [Boyd] kind of just solidified the reason why I work so hard to be the person I am—so that I’m paving a way for people that come after me, just like the people before me had paved the way for me.”