The University Record, January 14, 2002

Honoring, challenging and living will be focus of MLK day

By Theresa Maddix

No formal classes will be held Jan. 21, but the University will not be closed. Classrooms, lecture halls and entertainment venues will be turned over once again for what associate vice provost John Matlock calls, “by far the largest and most comprehensive observation of MLK day in the country, especially among colleges and universities.”

The 15th annual U-M Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. symposium, “Honoring Challenging and Living,” with more than 65 events spanning Jan. 7–Feb. 28, will celebrate King’s 73rd birthday (his official birth date is tomorrow, Jan. 15). Looking at the finalists’ artwork created for the symposium by assistant professor Dennis Miller’s design students, it is evident that King’s spirit this year will draw on the tragic events of 9-11 and the current national sentiment. Designs stand out at once with vivid colors of red, white and blue.

“Our recent national tragedy has brought the concepts of citizenship, patriotism, community and tolerance to life in a terrible way,” says Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, professor of music, and senior counselor to the interim president, in the program brochure. “We are inexorably changed as individual citizens and as a University community by these events. Certainly Martin Luther King Jr., his life and his legacy have never been more relevant.”

“Each year, the committee comes up with a theme, but people are always encouraged to recognize the spirit of Dr. King in their own way,” says Matlock, who also is the director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. The MLK symposium planning committee is comprised of faculty, staff and students who plan 5-6 major events, including the keynote speaker.

A broad-based group of faculty, staff and students from across campus sponsor the other events. Matlock says the symposium “is a credit to all those groups that come together to recognize and observe the works of Dr. King.” He also is pleased that at U-M, the symposium/teach-in grew out of a sit-in where students demanded that each year on the holiday, classes would be cancelled so they could participate in activities focused on King. Matlock remembers the early years of the celebration here as being too chock full of events all on the same day. Now events are spread over more than a month so interested individuals can attend more of the blockbuster sessions.

Benjamin Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center will give the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 in Hill Auditorium. Randall Robinson, former director of the TransAfrica forum and author of “Debt—What America Owes to Blacks,” will present the Business School’s keynote address on honoring, challenging and living at 1:30 p.m. in Hale Auditorium. The opening address, “Hate, Intolerance and the Struggle for Social Justice,” by Morris Dees, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, will be held at 7 p.m. today (Jan. 14) in the Michigan Union Ballroom.

After a difficult and unpromising early childhood in Detroit, Carson turned around, in no small part because of his mother. He reports that his mother began to require him to read at least two books a week and write a report on each. After a stellar high school career, Carson went on to Yale University and then the U-M Medical School.

In his medical profession, Carson has twice led medical teams that separated Siamese twins joined at the head. As a role model, he has written three books and gives inspirational lectures to encourage audiences to be their best. His books are “Gifted Hands,” “Think Big,” and “The Big Picture.”

Randall Robinson, a graduate of Virginia Union University and Harvard Law School, established TransAfrica in 1977 to influence U.S. policy toward Africa and the Caribbean. Robinson and TransAfrica worked fervently to call for an end to Apartheid in South Africa. Robinson is the author of “The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks,” “The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe to Each Other” and “Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America.”

Dees founded the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 1971 with another lawyer, Joseph J. Levin Jr. SPLC is a non-profit organization that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation. Dees is a popular speaker and the writer of the autobiography, “A Season For Justice,”as well as “Hate on Trial: The Case Against America’s Most Dangerous Neo-Nazi,” and “Gathering Storm: America’s Militia Threat.”

The Web site,, provides information on all of this year’s events. The site also provides links to other sites honoring King, as well as events from previous years. Those who missed last year’s presentation by Edward James Olmos or who want to re-examine Nikki Giovanni’s 1999 keynote speech can click, sit back and view a video presentation. See pg. 8 for a schedule of events and a look at some of the kick-off activites.