To conclude the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Week Celebration, the weekly chapel service honored King in Ford Memorial Chapel on Sunday, Jan. 22. The sermon was delivered by Assistant Professor of Political Science John Christie-Searles. Community members and Allegheny students offered readings and sang throughout the service to remember King and the importance of activism.
The week of celebration began with the MLK Keynote speaker, Naim Edwards, on Jan. 16. As part of the celebration, the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Social Justice Center also hosted a Late Late Night with Hillel on Jan. 18. At each event, students, faculty and community members were encouraged to engage in discussions about justice, anti-racism work, activism and King’s legacy.
“I think it’s really important to recognize that [King] was a religious leader. He was a reverend. He was a minister. His activism comes out of that sense of religious justice,” said Chaplain Jane Ellen Nickell.
Darnell Epps, associate director of the IDEAS Center, helped organize the service this year. Nickell said that Epps brought in music and leadership that made the service a more authentic representation of that tradition.
“When you think of activism, do not rule out the power of youth,” Christie-Searles said.
Christie-Searles led the audience in an exercise where they repeated the lines of Jesse Jackson’s poem, “I Am – Somebody.” He said that people need to work together in order to accomplish goals and create change.
“We have learned to fly the air like birds. We swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together,” Christie-Searles said.
Christie-Searles compared Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street and how Occupy was less effective than the organizers hoped it would be. He said that activism is about doing, practicing and integrating the beliefs that groups are fighting for in their everyday lives. Highlighting the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” Christie-Searles said that activism is more than a slogan.
“I see white Americans using the phrase [Black Lives Matter], wearing the T-shirts, the buttons, showcasing the term on bumper stickers and public signage. It encourages me. I feel there is a community, an alliance of people who get it,” Christie-Searles said. “However, I am discouraged by those who profess to treat the blacks in their social and professional sphere with less dignity and respect.”
Christie-Searles made a point to say that activism should be a call to assist and help those in need.
“If we just think about ourselves when we are engaging in activism, we run the risk of creating our own gated communities,” Christie-Searles said.
Christie-Searles ended by sharing his vision for the college will eventually spread to the world as long as students, administration and staff engage in activism and help those in need.
Yemi Olaiya, ’17, read her own poem, “Drive By,” during the service. The poem focuses on feminism, black femininity, police brutality and the current political climate.
“I think oftentimes Dr. King is put on a pedestal as an icon and not as a human with flaws and having to go through a lot of trials and tribulations in order to accomplish what he did, and a lot of it, obviously, he didn’t do by himself,” Olaiya said. “I appreciated the service because I think it helped us to be able to envision ourselves as having an impact on the world regardless of where we come from, regardless of what our flaws may be and helping us to achieve great things no matter who we are.”
In addition to the film screening and guest speaker, Olaiya also attended the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21.
“I learned how solidarity really means solidarity,” Olaiya said. “I hope we continue the spirit because I know things get crazy on campus.”