Daily Egyptian

Martin Luther King Jr. celebration inspires racial reflection

By Tierra Carpenter, Daily Egyptian

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a holiday that often provides people with a reason to reflect on today’s racial issues versus those of the past. On Monday, a Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration in the Student Center sponsored by the Carbondale branch of the NAACP allowed people to do just that.

The celebration, which included youth performances and speeches, has been held in Carbondale for more than 30 years. 

Ed Dorsey, president of the Carbondale’s NAACP branch, said the event was inspired by the past. He said he can remember a time when Carbondale had segregated schools, movie theatres, restrooms and restaurants. Carbondale’s City Council now has members who are African-American and Asian-American, which is something “you wouldn’t have seen … 30 years ago,” Dorsey said. 

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SIU President Randy Dunn and Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry said race relations still have a long way to go within the university and the city.

“On the university side, I think there’s a greater sensitivity on campus to some some of the issues that are out there, particularly in terms of social justice and equal opportunity to all students. So from that standpoint I identify progress,” Dunn said, adding that these type of events call on people to keep working toward equality. “To suggest that we’re where we need to be, I don’t agree with that.”

Henry said the best way to improve race relations is by getting to know each other as a community through respect and love. 

Racial issues have been prevalent in the region, with Black Lives Matter activism on the University of Missouri campus garnering national attention.

Jeff McGoy, assistant dean of students and the keynote speaker at the event, said the activists involved with Black Lives Matter are similar to activists of the past such as King, Andrew Young and Jesse Jackson.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize it, but they were young when they were putting forth those movements,” he said.

“The young people are a different generation,” McGoy said.  “I didn’t go through some of the things my mother and them went through during those times with Dr. King. So this younger generation, they’re going through their challenges and their struggle, so they’re definitely speaking out about it as well.”

McGoy described most of the protests of today as nonviolent, strong, unified and diverse.

Some SIU students have realized how important it is to be involved.

Amber Henderson, a freshman from Harvey studying dental hygiene, said she enjoyed how students came together for the event and did something positive to recognize King’s work.

“It’s so many opportunities that students can get involved in and make a difference,” Henderson said.

Following the Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration, SIU’s Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. held a march with about 40 participants, including SIUC student trustee Allen Shelton. Marchers began at the Student Center and traveled over the north pedestrian overpass — a walkway above U.S. Route 51 — and went between the east campus dorms and back. 

Desmon Walker, president of SIU’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter, said the fraternity has held the march for at least 10 years. Walker, a senior from Champaign studying marketing, said the purpose is to commemorate what King stood for.

“While it has been quite a while since his death, his ideas still remain the same, and a lot of things he stood for are still relevant today,” he said.

Tierra Carpenter can be reached at [email protected] or 618-536-3325.

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