Union celebrates legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

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Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez and several Union students lead the Unity at Union March on Monday in honor of the activism and values promoted by Martin Luther King Jr. (Sarah Chang | Concordiensis)

This year marks the third year of the Unity at Union March in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which fell on Monday.

Students, faculty and staff gathered in front of Nott Memorial during common lunch and walked once around the building to symbolize the college collectively striving for a more united and equal environment.

“This allows our campus an opportunity to reflect and honor the spirit of MLK. We get a great turnout from a diverse group of students, faculty, staff and community members. In the past we’ve had faculty give remarks on MLK, we’ve read the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech line by line and found other creative ways to collectively celebrate,” Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez said of the march.

This year, the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir performed.

Union also takes this day as an opportunity to participate in more community outreach.

“A few years back, President Obama promoted the idea of making MLK Day as a day of service to our communities, rather than a day off,” Benitez stated.

He continued, “We honor this message by connecting with the local community and inspiring a spirit of service. Union College is an integral part of the larger Schenectady community and must take advantage of that role to impact and inspire others who live in the Capital Region.”

One example of this community outreach is the collection and donation of winter clothing to local people in need.

Each year, Union hosts a number of events on the days following Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor his legacy and foster discussions across campus on the ideals he stood for: equality, social activism and social justice.

Monday’s events included the Unity March and a panel discussion with Union alumni and current students.

On Tuesday, Identity Dialogues hosted a discussion on black activism during common lunch.

Today, students who participated in the Civil Rights Mini-Term over winter break will present on their experiences during common lunch in Reamer 305.

This weekend, Union will hold its annual Next Step Social Justice Retreat.

Benitez spoke highly of the significance of each of these events.

“All of these events are important because they provide opportunities to our Union community to come together and engage in much needed cross-cultural dialogue that, when approached genuinely and with empathy, make our campus and community a better, more socially just place for all,” Benitez said.

This Friday and Saturday the final event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. will take place: the Next Step Social Justice Retreat.

Benitez describes the retreat as “a forum to develop knowledge and skills to become better change agents, leaders and activists in regard to diversity, equity, power, privilege, prejudice and discrimination.”

Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to use their time at the retreat to share stories and experiences regarding oppression and social injustice. The goal of this sharing is to inspire discussions and spread messages of unity and activism. More people are slated to participate in this year’s retreat than ever before.

These events in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. are the result of collaborations between the Diversity and Inclusion Office, the Multicultural Affairs Office, the Kenney Community Center and a number of other groups and individuals.

“The relevance of King’s message and legacy is applicable to so many campus and societal contexts. For this reason, I believe it is vital to take a moment to reflect on how King’s words still have relevance today. Nearly 50 years after his death, we are still striving to reach the mountaintop of equity and justice he spoke about in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech,” Benitez said.

Benitez added that these events are representative of Union’s desire to improve the campus environment for every member of the community.

 

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