NIU prepares to dedicate MLK Commons

By Michael W. McVey

After one major renovation and numerous repairs and additions, the King Memorial Commons officially will be dedicated.

There will be a dedication ceremony Sept. 17 for the recently completed commons.

While many campus organizations comprised of students, faculty and administration are sponsoring the event, the Student Association, the NIU-NAACP and the Steering Committee are responsible for much of the organization and promotion of the event.

The ceremony will begin at noon in the commons, or the Sandburg Auditorium in the event of inclement weather.

Zainal “Z” Ahmad, program coordinator of University Programming and Activities, said the ceremony is occurring because the sculpture and bust honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are the only structures of their kind on the NIU campus.

“The lofty significance assigned to this area is assigned to no other area on this campus,” Ahmad said.

He said the goal of the ceremony is to create a celebration where the NIU and DeKalb communities can gather together and meditate on King’s message.

Since King’s message often is misunderstood or not heard, “this will offer people a chance to take a second look at Martin Luther King and his message,” Ahmad said.

He also pointed out the quotations from King on the base of the “Balance of Equality” sculpture on the east end of the commons.

Ahmad said some students and faculty had the idea for the commons about 12 years ago. The long-awaited completion of the 2.5 acre commons, with the “Balance of Equality” sculpture and the bust of King, is the occasion for the ceremony.

In an invitation to President Bill Clinton to attend the NIU Centennial Celebration in 1995, Eddie Williams, co-chair of the Steering Committee, stated that construction began eight years ago at a cost of $120,000.

“These are difficult times for all who care about the principles for which King stood … national sentiment has not always been supportive of human rights and freedoms, and interest has abated for those less fortunate than most.

“Symbols such as the commons and the ‘Balance of Equality’ must be created and supported as permanent bridges connecting the blood, sweat and tears of the past to our goals and priorities for the future,” Williams stated in the invitation, which Clinton declined.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony will be Dr. Benjamin Hooks, former executive director of the NAACP.

From 1977-93, under his leadership, the NAACP instituted several programs to assist poor and minority individuals in the areas of education, employment, voter registration, youth programs and prison reform.

Hooks led a 1979 prayer vigil in Washington, D.C., to oppose an anti-busing amendment in Congress. He also led the fight for passage of the District of Columbia Home Rule bill.

The ceremony also will include musical performances by NIU’s Steel Drum band, a mariachi band, the NIU Black Choir and the University Chorus.

In conjunction with the dedication ceremony, several displays honoring King also have been set up. These include the “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Man and His Message,” display at Founders Memorial Library; a book sale and display, “Literature on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” at the university bookstore; “A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” at the Office of Campus Recreation and “Evolution of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons,” in the Holmes Student Center gallery.

Ahmad said at least 500, and hopefully more than 1000 people are expected to attend this ceremony. The ceremony is intended to honor King and unite the student community, as well as the DeKalb community, around his message.

It also is intended to lead in to the NIU Centennial Celebration, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of NIU.

The dedication will be followed by Unity in Diversity week, Sept. 19-25, during which people from all cultures will have a chance to celebrate their heritage as well as their common experience with other cultures at NIU.

Ahmad said he advises students to come and celebrate and reflect on what King’s message was, and how it applies to us today.

He also suggested that teachers could take their classes to the ceremony to promote cultural awareness.

At 2 p.m. there will be a reception at the student center art gallery lounge, where students will be able to see one of the displays honoring King. At 7 p.m. the NIU chapter of the NAACP will hold a banquet to honor Dr. Hooks.

Banners in various colors are being posted throughout campus, especially in the student center and the commons, to promote the celebration.