Denison University’s celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Day started
at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday in Swasey Chapel and concluded Monday evening. This MLK Day featured several notable changes from last year, and several key people involved in the planning and implementation of the celebration provided valuable insight.
The celebration kicked off in Swasey Sunday night with a showcase of MLK related artwork from Granville school children. The chapel service has been described as an inter-faith affair, with several different religions and denominations coming together in one building to celebrate Dr. King’s work and contributions. This is particularly important for MLK Day Planning Committee member and Religion professor Dr. David Woodyard, who describes Dr. King’s speeches as invoking heavy “biblical imagery”. He says that the Sunday service was conceived to pay homage to “the religious resources that drove the Civil Rights movement.”
Dr. King was not the only person honored during the MLK celebration. Our president, Dr. Dale T. Knobel, was honored for his significant contributions to diversity at Denison. Dr. Woodyard opined, “He’s done a number of remarkable things to advance diversity, one of them [is] the Posse Program. [He has] put Denison light years ahead of where we were.”
Monday’s programming involved a community dialogue, teach-in sessions, and a service fair. The service fair and the changes made from previous years, which involved active service from Denison students and community members, were explained by Dr. Lyn Robertson, education professor and the head of the Alford Center for Service Learning at Denison. She says that the fair provides the opportunity for students and community members to build long-lasting relationships with agencies and perform more community service in the future. Dr. Robertson laments Dr. King, saying, “MLK’s life was a life of service, and we invite people to serve and honor his memory.”
Another meaningful change to MLK day was the decision to have longer teach-ins. Co-Chair of the MLK Day Planning Committee and Assistant Dean of Students Erik Farley explained that the teach-ins were so successful and popular last year, having an extra slot for them and providing the option to have them longer than 50 minutes was a necessity. Dr. Robertson fully supports teach-ins, and shares their advantageous nature in education. “People could teach each other that you didn’t need to be taught by a supervisor, that ordinary people could teach each other.”
MLK Day at Denison started twelve years ago when two students, one black, one Jewish inquired about having a day of celebration for the civil rights leader. Dr. Knobel obliged, and since then, the day has evolved to partnerships with Granville and the greater community. It is meant as a time for service, learning, and to reflect on the contributions of one of the most recognizable change agents in American history.