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Updated 11:00 AM January 9, 2006
 

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19th MLK Symposium goal is to "break silence" with words

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"A time to break silence," is a fitting theme for this year's Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, as spirited spoken word shows, lectures and other presentations will highlight the annual event today (Jan. 9) through Feb. 20.
Anna Deavere Smith (Photo courtesy Office Of Academic Multicultural Initiatives)

And while the MLK Symposium now is in its 19th year, the campus community does not take the celebration matter-of-factly. Says John Matlock, associate vice provost and director of academic multicultural initiatives, "Next year is the 20th anniversary and it still has the intensity of when it started."

"I've noticed more and more units are doing collaborative things. There are cost savings that way but we're involving different disciplines, getting them together; it doesn't cut down the intensity," Matlock says. "We'll have over 50 programs; music, poetry, lectures and more. This has definitely become a community program, too. There is a conscious effort to draw in more of the community, to draw in more young people."

Matlock says six or seven years ago, the MLK Day Youth Program drew only a handful of people. "Now it's a big production with programs, art and poetry," he notes.

This year's Youth Program is scheduled for Jan. 16 at the Modern Languages Building. Young children will participate in morning activities, including art, musical storytelling and small group discussions. Older students will be encouraged to find their voice to "break the silence" through experiences including rap, poetry, and music. The event is sponsored by the School of Education and the School of Social Work.

The MLK Symposium keynote speaker is author and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who has starred in the feature film "Philadelphia" and on the TV series "The West Wing," among other roles. For her theater production work, Deavere Smith was hailed by critics and honored by the MacArthur Foundation with a fellowship in 1996, for creating "a new form of theatre—a blend of theatrical art, social commentary, journalism and intimate reverie." She will address the University community in a program at 10 a.m. Jan. 16 in Hill Auditorium.

During the years, the University traditionally has sponsored one of the most comprehensive observances of any campus on King and his life. Other events highlighting the annual symposium include the MLK Day of Service at 10 a.m. Jan. 21 in the Chemistry Building Atrium, to spark students' interest in community involvement; a student/community poetry slam featuring Saul Williams at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre; and a presentation of New Orleans jazz band Hot 8 at 8 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Michigan Theater.

Other highlights include Professor C.K. Prahalad addressing international poverty in the MLK Symposium Opening Lecture at 4 p.m. today (Jan. 9) at the Pendleton Room in the Michigan Union; Dr. Na'im Akbar on "Breaking the Silence on Black Health and Life" at 11:45 a.m. Jan. 16 at Dow Auditorium in the Towsley Center; Michael Eric Dyson, author of "Is Bill Cosby Right?," at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 16 at Hale Auditorium in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business; and the closing lecture at 5 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Michigan Union Ballroom by Charlene Teters, founder of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media.

"A time to break silence" comes from a speech King made to clergymen April 4, 1967 on the Vietnam War. "He encouraged his fellow ministers that they had a responsibility to speak out on critical national issues, no matter how unpopular it might make them," Matlock says.

"The committee chose the theme not so much for the content of the (April 4) speech but for the message of the statement itself. You can actually take action to break the silence," Matlock says.

The theme also recalls the passing of Rosa Parks on Oct. 25, 2005, at the age of 92. Her legacy will be honored during the symposium. "Breaking the silence doesn't necessarily mean making a vocal protest," says Gena Flynn, symposium coordinator. Parks' quiet but powerful action kindled the yearlong Montgomery, Ala., bus strike, which brought King to world prominence.

For additional information, including an updated schedule of events, visit www.mlksymposium.umich.edu or contact Flynn at (734) 936-1055, mlkteam@umich.edu.

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