NIU dedicates MLK Commons

By Jen Bland

No students in their right mind would miss it! It’s a truly historical occasion and it’s taking place right here at NIU—the dedication of the King Memorial Commons.

The dedication will begin at noon today with performances by a steel drum band and a mariachi band. Benjamin Hooks, Elaine Jones and other speakers will address the crowd at 1 p.m. and the University Chorus and Black Choir will perform.

At 2 p.m. the celebration will move to the Holmes Student Center Gallery Lounge for a reception. There will be class visitations and sit-ins at 3 p.m.

A number of events also are scheduled in cooperation with the dedication. At 7 p.m. in the Duke Ellington Ballroom of the student center the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) banquet “Celebration of Service” honoring Benjamin and Frances Hooks will begin.

“Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Man and His Message” will be displayed on the first floor of Founders Memorial Library.

“Literature on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” a display and book sale will be at the student center bookstore, the Office of Campus Recreation will feature a display, “A Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “Evolution of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons” will be displayed at the student center gallery.

Many of the displays will remain on exhibit after today, but students may never get another chance to take part in such a phenomenal event.

Students may not understand the magnitude of the commons. It is the largest physical area (2.5 acres) in the Midwest dedicated to King. Never has an African-American been so honored at NIU and nothing else on the campus carries such significance.

Within the commons stands a sculpture named “The Balance of Equality” and a bust of King. The sculpture was created by Dann Nardi of Bloomington, Ill.

In Nardi’s words the sculpture represents King’s ideals, “within a monumental form and space that would convey (King’s) vision as universal and enduring.”

Richard Baker, co-chair of the commons dedication steering committee, said the sculpture represents difference. “It’s a conversation piece,” Baker added. “It makes people talk about and reflect about the efforts of Dr. King.”

The bust was donated to NIU last year by one of the finalists for the national competition in which the sculpture was selected.

Many state representatives have been invited to attend the dedication ceremony including Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Sen. Paul Simon, Gov. Jim Edgar, Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, Rep. David Wirsing, Sen. Brad Burzynski and Sen. Dan Jacobs.

Braun said if she cannot attend the ceremony, she will call from Washington to offer encouragement.

Baker said the NIU campus has a problem because it does not invite state representatives to campus. “That may be why we’re not getting any tax dollars,” he said. “This is the perfect opportunity for students to ask if they’re being forgotten.”

“Celebration of Service” tickets are available to students for $15 and non-students for $25. Baker said tickets are still available, but will not be available at the door.

Baker said there have been 250 to 300 tickets sold and “we can accommodate all.” Dress for the banquet is formal, black tie optional.

Earl Shumaker, head of government publications at the library, said the library display will contain books about King and government publications. Shumaker said the display is to “commemorate Dr. King and his achievements pertaining to civil rights.”

Juliette Moore, director of the Office of Campus Recreation, said the OCR will be closed from 1 to 2 p.m. to encourage people to attend. Moore said she feels the event is “important for the campus because they’re dedicating an area in celebration of Dr. King and what he stands for.”

Commemorative banners are also being sold as part of the dedication. The banners were designed by NIU student Kathy Brandenburg. They are available to interested students and faculty for $70 each.

Zainal Ahmad, program coordinator of University Programming and Activities (UP&A), said banners are no longer available to various departments because there’s a limited area where they can be hung.

Ahmad said individuals who are sill interested can place orders, but will not receive them until after the dedication.

The banners are available in four different color schemes. Ahmad said, “This is to represent the diversity of the NIU population and academic programs.”

He added there also will be some rare books signed by King or members of his family displayed on the fourth floor of the library.

Hooks’ presence on the NIU campus is momentous. Baker said Hooks usually is booked two or three years in advance. Hooks also is giving up an important conference to be at NIU.

But Baker did not go directly to Hooks to invite him. He saw Frances Hooks at a benefit and asked her to tell Dr. Hooks about the dedication.

“I’d met him at other functions, but I wasn’t sure if he remembered me,” Baker said. “He’s a ery unique man and I think the campus will be refreshed by his appearance.”

Baker emphasized that no matter how many statues, busts or speakers students have, it’s what they take from it that matters.

“I hope the students absorb his message and apply it,” Baker added. “If you go into an event looking for something, you shall find it.”

Although the commons has been at NIU for a number of years, it has taken a while to dedicate it. Baker said two of the reasons are all the construction projects, and the committee had to raise a lot of money to put on an event of this grandeur.

“This will be an uplifting time to reflect,” he concluded.