In a show of unity to cap a night of celebration, a diverse crowd made up of hundreds of MTSU students along with several members of the faculty, staff and wider community formed a circle around the Student Union Ballroom Monday night.
Holding their blue-lit candles and silently reflecting on a man whose dream continues to inspire so many, participants in the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration and Candlelight Vigil had just enjoyed an evening filled with encouraging words and musical and theatrical tributes to the slain civil rights leader as well as a reminder that they all have a part to play in the march toward equality and justice.
Derrick Hayes of Columbus, Georgia, a motivational speaker and author of “1 WORD is All It Takes,” delivered the keynote address for this year’s campus observance of the federal holiday, which was sponsored by the Office of Intercultural & Diversity Affairs and the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership and hosted by the Kappa Xi chapter of King’s fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.
“I’m starting to see things in words that I never saw before,” Hayes said. “Inside of the word ‘life’ is the word ‘if.’ If you don’t try, who’s to say you will succeed. Because life will take you through something, only to make you do something … Inside the word ‘destiny’ is the word ‘tiny,’ the tiny steps … that lead to the big things.”
Hayes, who developed a scholarship fund at his alma mater Tennessee State University, used the acronym BUILD to urge students to build their own legacies by: Becoming their true selves, including having a written bio; Understanding their uniqueness; Investing in networking; Learning from relationships; and Developing themselves to the fullest.
Wearing a blue T-shirt with the word “W.O.E.” across the front in big white letters, Hayes asked the crowd to follow one instruction: “Before you leave here tonight or before you go to sleep, give someone a WOE. That means give somebody a Word Of Encouragement.”
Hayes also reminded students how much King valued the power of education to transform lives, an outlook not lost on MTSU alumna De’Janel Henry, who emceed the celebration.
“This institution not only made my reality a dream, but my dream my reality,” said Henry, a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority who earned her master’s degree in education from MTSU in fall 2015.
While Henry reminded the crowd of the “timeless values” that King exhibited — courage, truth, faith, justice and compassion, Brian Owen, college pastor for New Vision Baptist Church in Murfreesboro and the Point Campus Ministry, led a recitation of MTSU’s True Blue Pledge, which outlines the university’s values, including a commitment to reason, not violence.
Before that, Owen led a prayer in honor of King, a Baptist minister who “had a relentless dedication to seeing all people created in your image being recognized and honored as such. His love of the gospel message drove him to seek the eradication of social injustice. He was compelled to deliver the gospel of freedom beyond his hometown. God, will you please give us this same courage and willingness.”
In between were special presentations by Alpha Phi Alpha and spoken word duo “Soulfool.” MTSU’s Generation of Purpose Gospel Choir sung a stirring a cappella rendition of “What If God Is Unhappy?” while violinist Chandler Custer, an Austin Peay State University student from Antioch, Tennessee, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, played a tribute to Coretta Scott King; and Don Aliquo, MTSU professor of saxophone and jazz studies, was joined by student Devante Buford of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a saxophone duet of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” by jazz great Charles Mingus.
Daniel Green, director of the MTSU Office of Intercultural & Diversity Affairs, also made special presentations to four area middle school students who participated in an MLK oratorical and art contest where they could submit an original poem, speech, essay or work of art that honored King’s message of nonviolence and service through leadership.
After the students shared their winning entries with the audience, Green presented them with a special medallion and framed certificate. Among top administrators in attendance were MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, Deb Sells, vice president for student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services, and Sarah Sudak, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.
For more information about this year’s event, contact Green at 615-898-5812 or firstname.lastname@example.org.