MLK Week for Peace unites New Orleans
Loyola students perform at Tulane University’s McAlister Auditorium at the Expressions of Unity Step Off for the Dream on Jan. 17, 2014. The step off was the first event of the MLK Week for Peace, a weekend of events that spanned Jan. 17 to 20. D.J. SEVERAN/Staff Photographer
Forty-six years after Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, Loyola students are continuing his dream by striving for peace and equality, through the 27th annual Week for Peace.
Usually a weeklong event, the event was condensed to a weekend, beginning Friday, Jan. 17 and continuing until Monday, Jan. 20.
Courtney Williams, MLK Week for Peace committee chair and assistant director of student programming and advocacy, said that the week's purpose was to put King's teachings into practice.
"The mission of the week is to commemorate, celebrate and reflect on the life and teachings of Dr. King and his vision of collective work and social justice," Williams said.
Starting in 1991, Loyola has joined Dillard University, Tulane University, and Xavier University, coming together in events to commemorate King.
Mathew Holloway, MLK Day of Service planning committee member and sociology sophomore, said relationships within communities were a focus of the weekend.
"Each event is designed to capture the essence of what it means to serve and to understand one's relation to others in their community," Holloway said.
This year there was a step competition and talent show Friday, convocation and breakout session Saturday, an interfaith service on Sunday, and a day of service on Monday.
Williams said that a backdrop for the weekend was the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
"The events will examine how far our society has evolved since that time and explore things that can be done to further the dream in the future," Williams said.
Tulane University and Xavier University began these events in 1987. Both schools later began collaborating with Loyola University and Xavier University. Williams said collaborating with other schools is what sets Week for Peace apart from other Loyola University Community Action Program events or other Loyola service programming.
This aspect brings a stronger community bond to the events.
"It brings students and community members together in a way that they would not normally interact and I think that is what MLK wanted. Each school pushes the other school to think more critically and look at situations from a different perspective," Thea Celestine, sociology senior and planning committee member said.
Celestine said that this was the first year students were allowed to have such a large part in the planning.
"Typically the events are planned by staff from all four universities but this year we implemented a student committee so that the events could be student-driven," Celestine said.
Molly Davies, sociology sophomore and University Planning Board member in charge of planning service days, especially liked this aspect of Week for Peace.
"We met every week and it has been really fun to work with others outside of Loyola because we are all working in putting together a great day of service and weekend of activities," Davies said.
Nicole Tinson, Dillard political science senior, believes King's dream reasonates with all students.
"I think the collaborative effort or aspect sends a message that college students, despite what school they attend or their upbringing, care about working to leave the world better than they found it," Tinson said.
The convocation featured keynote speaker Minnijean Brown-Trickey from the "Little Rock Nine", a group of nine African-American students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. She spoke on the status of social progress in relation to King's dream.
Students and community members received awards for their commitment to service and social justice. Actor Wendell Pierce received the Presidential Award for Lifetime & Commitment to the Dream, an award that was established in 1992 to recognize outstanding community servants who were making a difference in the lives of others.
Holloway believes that King's morals were demonstrated throughout the course of events.
"The interfaith service, Day of Service and the Expressions of Unity events encapsulated the spirit of service and social justice - messages Dr. King echoed throughout his fight for justice," Holloway said.
Monday's service day was meant to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a traditional day off, a "day ON" by having students give back to the New Orleans community, said Holloway. Volunteers participated in several different service projects on subjects such as school and education, neighborhood revitalization, celebration of the arts and local culture.
"We feel that it is important to support the communities in which we exist and that the service projects will continue to strengthen the bonds we have with our community partners," Williams said.
Holloway believes that the weekend speaks directly to Loyola's values.
"The messages that King relayed to the world are the same messages we, as Jesuit university, continue to convey through social justice," Holloway said.
Asia Alvarado can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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