By Carina Sorrentino
This Monday during common lunch the Office of Multicultural Affairs hosted the Unity @ Union March as a tribute not only to Martin Luther King Jr. but also the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While most students grow up learning the logistics of the Civil Rights Movement and the relevance of Dr. King, few get the opportunity to participate in an event that truly captures the spirit of walking side by side for a cause.
Each year Union typically celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day throughout the entire week with a variety of speakers and forum discussions. This year in acknowledgment to the historical passing of legislation, faculty and students wanted to take it to another level by offering an event that required physical participation.
“We wanted to offer a larger event that would be a symbol of unity including the entire campus,” commented Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez. He and a planning committee met twice in the fall to brainstorm ideas and when the proposal of a march was made, the group was unanimously in favor. “We thought it would be a great way not only to honor Dr. King, but those who marched, and most importantly the sacrifices they made to do so.”
In his emails, Benitez stated that the event would have no make-up date, as it would take place in rain, snow or shine. This was a key detail of the march, as those who stood up during the Civil Rights movement faced the adversity of police and civilian brutality. “If those before us have had to go through dogs and water hoses, we can deal with the minor obstacle of a little cold,” remarked Benitez.
Benitez was extremely optimistic about the event and eager to send a powerful message to the Union campus. “It is looking like it is going to be very well attended, the Greek supervisor has been stressing participation, and many of the senior staff has even cancelled their regular meetings to attend.”
Schaffer Library seemed to be a perfect spot to begin the march as it is centrally located on campus and gets a great deal of traffic during the school day. “Our hope is to attract those students who may have bypassed the email but are walking by and want to know what is going on,” remarked Benitez, “and for that reason, we would like to have a lot of students who didn’t even plan to be there jump in and support the cause.”
Furthermore, the timing could not have been more ideal as Monday is recognized as a national holiday; therefore public schools have the day off. Union admissions were expecting around two hundred prospective students to be on campus during the day, making the march exemplary of the kind of unity that our school strives to instill in its students.
Monday morning a campus wide email read, “Would chilly temperatures and snow flurries have stopped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Marchers from pressing on?” The answer was no, and Benitez’s predictions were correct. As common lunch arrived on Monday, a massive crowd collected in front of Schaffer Library. Students carried signs that read “Unity @ Union” and large peace signs marched around the rugby field and then proceeded into the Nott Memorial.
Last year Benitez and students wrote each line of the “I Have A Dream” speech on index cards and had individuals read a line, and then compiled each clip to complete the full reading. Recorded one year ago in honor of MLK Day, this unique version of the historically emulated speech was played for the audience.
In a few closing remarks to the audience, Benitez took the stage and truly brought the event full circle. He stated, “Look, this is the easy part. Holding up a sign and showing up to walk with others, that is easy to do. The true unity that we would like to see fostered here at Union is day to day. How do you treat your fellow classmates? Is there an atmosphere of respect and an embracing of other cultures and other ways of thinking? It begins with the march, but the true test of a campus’ unity is how we treat and view and accept each other each day. This is a one-time event, but that unity you take away is what lasts.”
While Union is filled with students from all walks of life and a multitude of backgrounds, sometimes it is necessary to step back and appreciate the histories of those we may not be familiar with.
Not only was the march an excellent display of the unity that already exists, but the unity that can be strengthened through future gatherings of this nature.
More events will be held this week including an information session on those who went on the Civil Rights Mini-Term and a discussion on the life of Nelson Mandela.