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This Year, Emerson’s MLK Week Is About Action

This year, Emerson College will go beyond a call to service and focus on a call to action and  movement-building as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week of events.

The week, sponsored by the offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Life, takes as its theme “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?”—the title of King’s 1967 book advocating human rights and hope.

“We recognize in building movements and advancing social justice work that there can be chaos, but we [in the Division of Diversity and Inclusion] are really thinking about how do we build community, how do we hold community up and advance folks who are working for social justice?” said Judy Pryor-Ramirez, executive director of the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research, a partner in the MLK Week celebration.

The theme seemed appropriate in light of the election of Donald Trump, she said.

Since the election, Pryor-Ramirez said the Elma Lewis Center had been fielding questions from faculty and staff about how the Center would respond to Trump’s election, as well as students—many from marginalized communities—who expressed fear of an incoming president who campaigned on policies and beliefs potentially harmful to them.

One of the changes organizers made in this year’s celebration was to replace the annual Day of Service, typically held on the Friday of MLK Week, with a “Building a Movement” workshop, facilitated by partners from the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM).

Sign up for “Building a Movement”

“This year we felt really compelled… to build our [organizing] skills,” Pryor-Ramirez said. “We need to build a coalition; we need to be thinking about developing ourselves, as many folks have expressed interest in doing something.”

“Building a Movement” will take place Friday, January 27, 10:00 am–3:30 pm, in the Bordy Theater, and will include sessions on “Know[ing] Your Rights,” “Know[ing] Your Powers,” and a closing commitment to “push against chaos to create community.”

Pryor-Ramirez said she hopes this workshop will further the dialogue sparked by a number of substantive events held on campus so far this academic year (Teach-In on Race, An Evening with Angela Davis) by turning it into concrete action.

The week kicks off on Monday, January 23, 12:30–2:30 pm, with a community lunch and guided meditation session on the 10th Floor of the Walker Building.

On Wednesday, January 25, 11:30 am–1:00 pm, also on Walker 10, there will be a book launch for Proyecto Carrito: 2010–2016, an anthology in English and Spanish by Latin American immigrant janitors, students, faculty, and administrators at Emerson.

Later that night, from 5:00 to 9:00 pm in the Bright Family Screening Room, there will be a screening of Show Me Democracy, a documentary about St. Louis college students who evolve into activists in the shadow of Ferguson. It will be followed by a panel discussion with DiDi Delgado, a Black Lives Matter leader in Boston/Cambridge; student leaders from EBONI (Emerson’s Black Organization with Natural Interests) and Emerson UNITE (Understanding National Immigration Through Education); and Pryor-Ramirez.

A separate but related event, the MLK Community Leaders Breakfast, sponsored by the Elma Lewis Center, will honor Dr. De Ama Battle, founder and CEO of Art of Black Dance and Music, Inc. and a protégé of Lewis ’43, on Wednesday morning at the Bordy Theater.

Rather than being held in the days after Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 16), it’s taking place the following week (January 23–27).

That’s partially just due to the timing of the start of classes on January 17, Pryor-Ramirez said. But delaying Emerson’s events also allowed community members to participate in MLK events within the Greater Boston community and acknowledges the ceaselessness of King’s message and work.

“It felt right to have it the week after and to…also show and model to the community that what MLK offers us goes beyond his birthday,” Pryor-Ramirez said.

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