The Northwestern University community has celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. since 1980, when the Alpha Mu chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity initiated what is now known as the Candlelight Vigil. Since then, honoring their fraternity brother became a tradition for the chapter in collaboration with the Department of African-American Student Affairs and the University Chaplain’s office. In 1987, the University decided to join and expand the commemorations for a whole week with a wide program of events that ranged from discussions to lectures, films, plays, service projects, and more.
This year’s tribute will run for an extended period of time from January 15 – 31 on both the Evanston and Chicago campuses. The event will start off on Monday with the Day of Service, where Northwestern students together with other local university students and community members will transform learning spaces at Gale Community Academy in Rogers Park. Meanwhile, Evanston students will get the chance to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King through arts and crafts at Northwestern. The traditional Candlelight Vigil featuring Don Thompson, American engineer, business executive, and CEO of Cleveland Avenue, LLC. will take place that night in the Alice Millar Chapel.
The purpose of the MLK commemorations in Northwestern is not only to celebrate the life of the man, but also to look through his eyes at several issues that have affected or still affect our society today. Therefore, several of the events planned for this year explore different topics that relate to Dr. King’s ideas. One of those events is the January 18 viewing of the documentary 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green on the Chicago campus. The documentary explores the volatile and controversial story of the patch of land once occupied by the public housing project Cabrini Green, while looking unflinchingly at race, class, and who has the right to live in the city.
Likewise, on January 18 and 20, student-written plays Afrocensored by Amira Danan and Chains on Chocolate by Elliot Sagay will immerse the Northwestern community in fascinating topics such as black women’s struggles in life and slavery seen through a different lens. On January 19, the event Inside Chicago will feature a series of videos and commentaries on Chicago’s racist history. Later that same day, open mic event Lift Ev'ry Voice will be an opportunity for black Northwestern students to make their voices heard. Participants will have the chance share up to ten minutes of a play, a song, a poem, a short film, a speech, or anything else that illustrates their realities.
On January 25, on both the Chicago and Evanston campuses, Charles Blow, an American journalist, commentator, and current visual op-ed columnist for The New York Times will deliver a keynote address reflecting on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the current state of civil rights. On January 26, Harambee will celebrate the African Diaspora by featuring a variety of performances, music, and food for everyone to enjoy. At the closing event on January 31, students, faculty and community members are invited to join Melissa Blount, an Evanston-based artist, activist, and creator of the Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt, to produce a collaborative work of art.
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So don’t miss out on these opportunities to express your voice, listen to others, and together celebrate the legacy of the man who dedicated his life to fight for justice, equality, peace and love. For a detailed schedule of the events, please visit www.northwestern.edu/mlk.