19th MLK Symposium resonates with current event connections
The 19th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Symposium will have a current events feel as its theme, "A time to break silence," will recall both King's opposition to what he called an unjust foreign war, and his fight against povertya lingering problem as revealed in the media glare following Hurricane Katrina.
The theme also poignantly recalls the recent passing of Rosa Parks, whose legacy will be honored during the 2006 campus-wide symposium.
Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who has starred in the feature film "Philadelphia" and on the TV series "The West Wing" among other roles, has been selected as the keynote speaker by the 40-member MLK Symposium Planning Committee, which coordinates roughly 75 symposium-related events in January-February.
Deavere Smith's work that explores the American character and our multifaceted national identity has been acclaimed by the media, critics and audiences across the country. The New York Times has called her "the ultimate impressionist: she does people's souls."
The MacArthur Foundation awarded Deavere Smith a prestigious fellowship in 1996, saying she "has created 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 at Hill Auditorium.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded King its Nobel Peace Prize for his work during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and '60s. King ultimately connected the African-American struggle for equality in the United States with the struggles of others, regardless of race or ethnicity, throughout the world.
" 'A time to break silence' comes from a speech Martin Luther King made to clergymen with respect to the Vietnam War on April 4, 1967," notes John Matlock, associate vice provost and director of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. "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."
King came out against U.S. involvement in that war, which alienated some Americans including some in the Civil Rights Movement. "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.
Gena Flynn, coordinator for the MLK Symposium, says that in order for University departments, campus organizations and student groups to have their 2006 events listed in the commemorative program book honoring Dr. King, they need to register their MLK-related events by logging on to www.mlksymposium.umich.edu/. The deadline is Dec. 8.
"Breaking the silence comes in many different shapes and forms. It doesn't necessarily mean making a vocal protest," Flynn says. "Mrs. Rosa Parks' act in simply remaining seated was in fact breaking the silence." Parks' action kindled the yearlong Montgomery, Ala. bus strike, which ultimately brought Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement to world prominence.
Following Parks' death at age 92 on Oct. 25, "We started thinking immediately how we could recognize her legacy," says Matlock. He recalls the time in the mid-90s when Parks participated in a pre-college program on campus with a group of high school students and the emphasis that she placed on education.
With Parks' death and subsequent eulogies still fresh in the public mind, he says the symposium committee is dedicating this year's commemorative program booklet to honor her contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. "There is definitely a relationship between Mrs. Parks and Dr. King, and we often spoke about that relationship," said Matlock, who worked with Parks for five years in the office of Congressman John Conyers.
In keeping with the event theme, organizers note King always spoke out against social injustices, which included povertya lingering condition brought to light by another recent event, Hurricane Katrina and the destruction it wreaked on Mississippi and Louisiana.
"As we celebrate the life and teachings of Dr. King, we, too, have a duty to honor him by overcoming our apathy and silence," said Lester Monts, Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Senior Counselor to the President for the Arts, Diversity, and Undergraduate Affairs. "This apathy manifests itself on issues such as poverty, global warming, educational standards, international conflict and wars, health care, housing, and hate crimes. Not even an assassin's bullet could silence a voice that represented the voices of millions. That is exactly why the MLK Symposium Committee selected that trenchant statement as this year's theme."
Over the years, the University traditionally has sponsored one of the most comprehensive observances of any campus on King and his life. Approximately 75 events by students, faculty and staff will be sponsored in January, including lectures by author Michael Eric Dyson, Charlene Teters of the National Coalition on Racism in Sports and the Media, Professor C.K Prahalad on international poverty, a student/community poetry slam featuring Saul Williams, the School of Education annual MLK Day Children's Program, Project Serve's Annual Day of Community Service, the University Music Society's performance by the award winning Gospel group Take 6, and Hot 8a jazz band from New Orleans.
For additional information, including a schedule of event please visit www. mlksymposium.umich.edu or contact Flynn at 936-1055, firstname.lastname@example.org