With the overarching theme of “Hope, History, and Change,” Goshen College celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with festivities that ranged from poetry readings to luncheons. Dr. Vincent Harding, a civil rights leader, historian, theologian and peace activist joined the campus in celebration and discussion of multiculturalism and servant leadership.
The celebration started on Sunday with a class lecture and community conversation featuring Dr. Harding. Students and community members posed questions focusing on the Civil Rights movement, diversity in today’s world and the importance of solidarity in today’s struggles for equality. Dr. Harding gave advice to audience members willing to fight for equality by acknowledging that “we are afraid but we are determined that fear will not overcome us, will not stop us.” The session ended with a candlelight vigil and march for freedom and justice.
The activities on Monday started off with a spoken-world coffeehouse. Several students and staff members read poems with themes of freedom, struggle, pain, strength and solidarity. Works from authors such as Maya Angelou, Nelson Mandela and Lucille Clifton were performed.
“I loved the range of voices and the different ways students took the theme of ‘Hope, History, and Change’ and how they interpreted it,” said Jessica Baldanzi, an English professor who helped organize the event. “Some of the readings were so hard, but hopeful. Some people needed to read responses on justice and equality, and there is a space for that.”
At the end of the performance, all were invited to join the 40 Days of Peace Project. In doing so, students would pledge to work toward a more peaceful world through volunteer work, conversations and acts of service.
A convocation featuring Dr. Harding followed the poetry reading. Goshen College vocal group Parables started the convocation and were followed by a video focusing on what multicultural societies and servant leaders look like. Dr. Harding then responded to several questions on what his work for freedom, his faith, and his views on leadership and identity.
Liliana Ballge, assistant director of financial aid, said, “Convocation with Dr. Harding was very powerful primarily when he shared his vision for a multicultural and intercultural future … change is inevitable and what the outcomes of the change will be for Goshen will be dependent upon our attitude toward change and our commitment to servant leadership.”
Becca Yoder, a junior social work major, responded to Dr. Harding’s question “Why not here, why not Goshen?” when suggesting that the college be a place where emphasis on undoing racism is present.
“When I heard this I was glad, because while Goshen College may be small in comparison, or not as diverse as could be ideal, it is in no way exempt from racism,” Yoder said. “Racism, and the many other oppressions intertwine with it, are so very present in all of our lives despite ideas that we are beyond it.”
More Dr. Harding quotes from Monday’s convocation:
“Identity is not something most valuable to us when we are grasping it…identity is most valuable when we ask how we can join together (so that) we have a community in which we can share our uniqueness”
“We have to be ready to look at the possibility that something new has to be born” (in reference to the identity of the Mennonite church)
“I have committed myself to take Jesus seriously…if we want to walk with Jesus we have to look for the weakest, and the poorest and the most beat up”
By Kate Friesen