UW-Eau Claire celebrates historic civil rights leader

The first annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took place on Wednesday

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Photo by Gabbie Henn

Travis Adams, an attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, delivered the keynote address Wednesday night.

During the first week of its spring semester, UW-Eau Claire hosted a campus-community celebration of the legacy and dream of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

Sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Black Student Alliance, the event featured guest speakers and music led and performed by students.

The music included the Black American National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson, “Dream Variation” by Langston Hughes, and was harmonized by UW-Eau Claire’s own Elijah Vanderpool, a Music-Applied Voice major sophomore, “Precious Lord” by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey and was sung by UW-Eau Claire’s Concert Choir, and had a general assembly of “We Shall Overcome” led by First-year Business major Lorance Uwinaza.

The celebration concluded with Dr.King’s keystone address and readings from his most valuable work.

Held in Schofield Auditorium on Wednesday, the celebration took place two weeks after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and one day before Black History Month.

Michael Thomas, an organizer of the event and the Student Services Coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), said this event will allow the community to celebrate the significance of the black civil rights leader.

“It’s going to be a day where the campus and the community get to engage with some of his life accomplishments and how we move forward with those tools that he has given us,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he thinks this particular commemoration of Dr. King is just the type of value add that will showcase what type of influence he had on the culture and will be exactly what this university needs in order for students and faculty to understand his sermons of having more of an acceptance of each other as a whole.

“I venture to say that everyone who attends is going to get a lot out of that experience,” Thomas said. “And I really hope that everyone can see how great of a program the Martin Luther King celebration is, because this is an amazing civil rights leader.”

Thomas said the faculty at the OMA want their students to be successful. Since leadership is part of that, having them be able to look at one’s influence as such as Dr. King’s will help them gain insight and knowledge of the kind of message that Dr. King tried to instill to his listeners.

“I hope event-goers takeaway from this event that we are all a community and we all matter and we all have something to learn from each other.” Thomas said, “and so, I really hope that people take away this willingness to work with and learn from diverse perspectives.”

Collis McCloud, a senior business management student and current Black Male Empowerment President for the Black Student Alliance committee, spoke at the event. He agreed with Thomas’s sentiment and noted the “eye-opening fortuity” this event presented to not only African Americans but other cultures as well.

“It’s a good opportunity to share my history with people who really don’t know about it.” McCloud said. “A lot of people don’t understand the capacity that he went to fight for us, even African Americans, because it’s not really taught in school coming up.”

Indeed, Paul Nash, an undeclared first-year student, seemed to echo the same sentiment as McCloud and was a little bit ignorant of black history before this celebration.

“The event was eye-opening. It was good,” Nash said. “To be honest, before this event I didn’t even know we were coming up on black history month.”

Nash said what he appreciated the most about this event was the different African song choices chosen for this celebration and felt the hymns highlighted their history and the struggles they went through well.

McCloud read an excerpt on a different Dr. King speech than the “I Have a Dream” speech. This piece describes how the founding fathers wanted the United States to be: for all men and women to be created equally.

“During my speech, it will show that he tried to tackle different areas of oppression,” McCloud said, “and not just what he spoke about in that one speech.”

McCloud added he hopes his speech inspires two different facets of people and sheds the light on African American history overall.

“I have two different purposes: for African Americans I hope that we can take that speech and have them want to know more about our history and once they learn more utilize that to educate the youth.” McCloud said. “For white people I think my biggest thing would be to open their minds more and hopefully change their perception of African Americans in our society.”

McCloud said he hopes people can that there is no difference between us even though it’s a black activist we are celebrating.

“That is a part of all of our history.” McCloud said. “And he didn’t only fight for black people to rise up but for all of us to be equal.”