Poetry, history and hula dance marked the 31st annual celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at this year’s MLK Peace Breakfast, held in the Memorial Union Ballroom. As usual, the room was nearly at capacity as campus and community members gathered to pay tribute both to King’s legacy, and to the people who carry on his dream today.
Oregon State University President Ed Ray remarked on many ongoing campus efforts to increase inclusivity and understanding amongst different groups at OSU, including the creation of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the remodeling and revamping of the four campus cultural centers, and the continuing growth of students of color on campus. Currently one in five OSU students identifies as a minority, and one in 11 is an international student.
Ray urged students especially to not become apathetic just because certain social justice goals have been accomplished. He said there are forces ready to push us backward.
“These things don’t come automatically,” he said. “We are not entitled to the changes we see, we have to work for it.”
Keynote speaker Maria Chavez-Haroldson, the associate director for outreach and engagement at the Center for Latin@ Studies and Engagement (CL@SE), talked about how King’s message of social justice and racial equality struck home for her as a child. She recalled taking her nine younger siblings out for ice cream, and having a man make derogatory remarks about her family’s ethnicity before dropping hot ashes from his cigarette onto her head. This was the moment when Chavez-Haroldson understood the harm that hatred and prejudice could do.
She said that everyone should remember that the work King began is far from done, and the questions he raised should be present in our lives today. She said when we do our work we should ask, “Am I making a place for all in what I do? Who is present at the table, and who is not? Listen to the voices that we hear and pay attention to the voices we do not hear.”
The annual event was also a time for awarding campus community members who walk in King’s footsteps with their own work in social justice issues. College of Education instructor Mike O’Malley received the Phyllis S. Lee Award for his work advocating for positive social change, and has been called the “social justice conscience” of his college. Student activist Agustin Vega-Peters received the Frances Dancy Hooks Award for his extensive efforts in bringing together members of a number of the university’s cultural centers and programs.
Guests were also treated to a presentation on King’s history as a member of a fraternal campus organization, a hula dance set to John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and a poetry recitation by Anderson DuBoise III.
A number of other events honoring King will continue this week. To see a full schedule, go to http://oregonstate.edu/oei/martin-luther-king-jr-celebration