Week events to honor MLK Jr.

By Batul Cutlerywala

DeKALB — This year’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day will challenge people to step outside of their comfort zone through new thought-provoking events.

Events have been planned each day of the week following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Monday.

The theme of the week is to keep moving forward in beauty, love and justice, said Gena Flynn, Center for Black Studies director. The planning for the week started as a group effort of faculty, staff, students and community members during the fall semester.

Flynn said Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just for members of the black community, and she hopes those who participate will be able to see they can work with others who have different backgrounds and experiences.

“I think that the week is going to be an opportunity for us to explore King’s principle and philosophies in a way perhaps haven’t done before,” said Chief Diversity Officer Vernese Edghill-Walden. “I encourage the campus community to be involved and to think about ways that each of us can play a role in making positive change or moving toward what King talks about in terms of justice and equality.”

Caprisha Williams, sophomore nonprofit and non-governmental organization studies major, said King would be somewhat disappointed in today’s society because black Americans have been given opportunities to prevent ignorance but put down their own people instead of using those means effectively.

“Dr. King was always about social justice and equality,” Williams said.

The event’s organizers are aiming to reach out to all walks of life within the community by expanding from the NIU campus and organizing a craft-making event at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St., and a dinner at the First Lutheran Church, 324 North 3rd St., Flynn said.

“By the end of the week, we would like to see people on campus who don’t normally communicate or work together, build relationships and make NIU and DeKalb a better place,” Flynn said.

In previous years there was an annual march, but this year’s Journey Toward Justice is a walk-through presentation to ensure those who attend will be able to stop and think about why they’re walking, Flynn said.

Edghill-Walden said MLK’s main goal is to ensure all people receive justice, equality and equity.

“I think the more you study [MLK’s] teachings the more you understand how many different causes or different groups have more in common than they have differences aligning to his goal,” Edghill-Walden said.

Flynn said an interactive performance by Circles and Ciphers, a nonprofit organization based out of Chicago, will have original and improvised hip hop and poetry pieces that she expects to pull a large audience.

Circles and Ciphers is a restorative justice group that is composed of young leaders using hip hop and poetry to express themselves because they come from a troubled past, Flynn said.

The troupe interacts with the public and asks deep and difficult questions that will get people thinking about their own identities and how they can relate to each other, Flynn said.

After receiving feedback from the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, it was realized people on campus prefer small, intimate gatherings that allow them to think, Flynn said.

“They go through training and become leaders in restorative justice and use things like hip hop, poetry and song to get people thinking about their own backgrounds and identities,” Flynn said.

Thursday’s event, Social Justice Think Tank, will tie all the weeks dicuscussions together and see if any of those thoughts can be brought to action. Some of the ideas discussed could be selected to receive funding to turn a thought into a reality, Flynn said.

“The challenge is to sit with people that don’t necessarily already know each other or work with one another and think through an issue,” Flynn said.

The social justice issues concerns can range from attempts to stop isolation in the classroom to understanding one of the many different cultural groups here on campus. The point is to find a way to build community in DeKalb, Flynn said.

“If we are able to achieve that then I think we will be able to move forward much faster than we have before,” Flynn said.