With actions and words, Willamette celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

by Tina Owen,

  • Willamette students volunteer at Marion-Polk Food Share.
    Willamette University students volunteer at Marion-Polk Food Share during the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
  • Roberto Gonzales
    Roberto Gonzales, author of “Lives in Limbo,” speaks to book-club attendees during the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
  • Willamette students volunteer at Marion-Polk Food Share.
    Willamette University students volunteer at Marion-Polk Food Share during the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.
  • MLK book club
    Willamette University students discuss Roberto Gonzales’ “Lives in Limbo” during the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration.

MLK Celebration 2017 offers a variety of events and perspectives.

Wearing a hairnet and a plastic apron, Shawn Cichosz ’18 shoveled potatoes out of an enormous blue hopper and into bags. The Marion-Polk Food Share warehouse was cold, noisy and packed with people, but Cichosz enjoyed every minute of her three-hour shift. Surrounded by friends from Willamette and the local community, she was doing what she loves — helping others.

“Into The Streets is an excellent opportunity not only to do service but to step outside of Willamette, and interact with the Salem community,” says Cichosz. “It’s a program designed to remind us that we are stronger together.”

Cichosz was one of 165 participants in this year’s annual Into the Streets event. As part of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations, the university cancels CLA classes on a Friday afternoon so that students can live out Willamette’s motto — Not unto ourselves alone are we born — by participating in community service projects.

On the afternoon of Jan. 20, students, faculty and staff provided over 400 hours of service with nine community partners at 13 sites.

At the Marion-Polk Food Share, Cichosz and others repacked 5,000 pounds of food to be distributed to people and families in need. Willamette volunteers also pitched in at the Food Share’s community gardens, City of Salem Youth Development, Salem-Keizer Education Foundation, United Gospel Mission and other nonprofits.

Ending the silence

This year’s MLK Celebration took the theme “Our Silence is Violence,” inspired by King’s words, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Several events from Jan. 17–26 encouraged the Willamette community to engage in dialogue and consider other perspectives in the ongoing national debate about diversity.

On Jan. 20, almost 100 students gathered in the Hatfield Room at the Hatfield Library to hear a talk by Roberto Gonzales, author of “Lives in Limbo.” Selected as the text for this year’s MLK Book Club, “Lives in Limbo” follows the lives of 150 undocumented young adults in Los Angeles. Gonzales also presented a public lecture on his book and associated research later that evening.

Citing specific examples of young adults from his study, Gonzales described the physical and emotional stresses associated with living undocumented. He said, “There’s a very strong link between their undocumented status and their well-being.”

Gonzales praised his interactions with Willamette students, saying he was heartened by the spirit of love for justice he found on campus and the willingness of students to mobilize and support each other.

Other MLK Celebration events included an open mic night with the theme “Breaking Our Silence” at The Bistro and a convocation titled “Surviving AKKKademia” in which students shared their experiences from this year’s Oregon Students of Color Conference.

Willamette’s MLK Celebration 2017 will conclude with the Atkinson Lecture on Wednesday, Feb. 1. Award-winning author and speaker Ta-Nehisi Coates will speak on “A Deeper Black: Race in America.”