On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Monday, January 16 at 7:00 p.m., the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at Northwestern will host a candlelight vigil in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For 38 consecutive years, the candlelight vigil has been hosted annually at Northwestern. Alpha Phi Alpha began honoring Dr. King this way even before a national holiday was enacted in 1983.
Dr. King was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha from the chapter at Boston University. His membership was, in part, what inspired the Alpha Phi Alpha chapter at Northwestern to begin this annual candlelight vigil tradition.
“Considering that Martin Luther King is a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, it’s important for us to be involved in what we have here,” president of Alpha Phi Alpha, Dante Robinson, said. “There isn’t really anyone else in our fraternity more famous than MLK. Of course, we have other civil rights activists, but the fact that we have MLK in our fraternity means that I personally want to live by his vision.”
The sentiment extends to members of Alpha Phi Alpha nationwide. The fraternity has been involved in a number of civil rights projects to honor Dr. King, including construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington D.C. in 2011, and the members hold great pride is hosting the candlelight vigil.
According to Robinson, planning for the annual vigil begins at the start of fall quarter, and the speaker invited each year is meant to tie in King’s legacy with topics and events happening in the present day. “We don’t want speakers to come in and talk about whatever they want. We want them to talk about something relevant,” Robinson explained.
The candlelight vigil holds special meaning for members of the fraternity such as Robinson. This year’s speaker, Clint Smith, is an acclaimed poet and essayist along with being a doctoral candidate at Harvard University. He will be speaking alongside Spoken Word poet, Timothy Mays, and Northwestern musical student groups.
Northwestern students will enjoy a day free of classes on Monday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, something that Robinson feels that students should not take lightly. “A lot of people do understand who MLK was and his legacy, but a lot of people don’t understand his impact on the black community and how important he was,” the president said. “Just having a day off here at Northwestern makes that seem a lot more important.”
“You have this day off for a reason,” Robinson continued. “You should go and learn why. Even though it’s about Dr. King’s legacy, I think it’s just important overall to hear people speak about current events and how his legacy ties in today to get more perspective on what it means to be a black person on this campus, ‘cause not a lot of people know that.”
The candlelight vigil is part of Northwestern’s MLK celebration. Visit Northwestern’s website for the full program.