By ASHLEY CASS
Much of the United States remembered Martin Luther King, Jr., with the recognition of his birthday as a national holiday on Jan. 19.
But at Texas State during this year of remembering alum Lyndon Baines Johnson on the 100th anniversary of his birth while an African-American becomes President of the United States, the observation continues. Indeed, the university kicked off a solid week of King remembrances on Jan. 21.
Texas State students commemorated King with a candlelight march on campus Thursday evening from Old Main to the LBJ Student Center. The 24th Annual celebration kicked off Wednesday with cake and candy in the Quad. It will conclude Tuesday with a Game Night at the LBJ Student Center.
Jonnie Wilson, the university’s assistant director for multicultural Student Affairs, has been in charge of the event since 2001. Wilson said the time has come this year to remember King for a full week.
“Aside from change of location as far as marching, we are having a first time ever week-long celebration,” Wilson said. “In the past, it’s been a one-day march, followed by a program. But with the new President, I think that everyone is just thrilled and willing to participate and volunteer. The atmosphere is full excitement that (Barack) Obama is our President now, and it has given our young people a lot more hope than in the past.”
Public Relations Chair for the MLK Committee Jessica Horace said the march route, which used to be from the LBJ Student Center to Evans Liberal Arts Building, has changed this year. Thursday’s march ran from Old Main to the LBJ Student Center.
“This year we changed it up because we wanted to give the walk a more symbolic meaning – from the past to the present now,” Horace said.
Student and third-year march participant Emily McKleever said Obama as President is a huge step in King’s dream, but calls on individuals to cultivate change.
“Open your mind, open your heart,” McKleever said. “If you help the next man, the next man will help the next man and so on. So, if everyone helps each other, the nation we live in will be so much better.”
Dr. Sherri Benn, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Director for Multicultural Student Affairs, has participated in the MLK march since it started more than 20 years ago, when she was an undergraduate student. She said she is happy to see students demonstrating their level of consciousness and awareness about social issues.
“It’s exciting that students are willing to come out on a Thursday evening when, a lot of times, they’re out relaxing or doing other things with their friends,” Benn said. “I think it says a lot about our students when they come out to celebrate and commemorate in unity with each other for a great American icon and hero who’s done for all Americans.”
At almost 15 after 6 p.m. Thursday evening, the bell tower began to chime God Bless America, which, in turn, commenced the march. Students clad in black commemorative MLK “Let It Ring” shirts held candles and handmade signs promoting equality.
They made their way toward the horse statue in front of Evans Liberal Arts Building, where a young African American male spoke – “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last.” Soon after, six Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brothers recited a hymn, and the march resumed towards the student center.
Upon the conclusion of the march, students situated themselves in the LBJ Teaching Theatre for a keynote program. Texas State University President Denise Trauth gave the welcome. Keynote speaker Rev. Valerie Bridgeman, an associate professor of Hebrew Bible/Homiletics and Worship at Memphis Theological Seminary, shared her thoughts about the new administration and the role of students civic responsibility.
“Our civic responsibility is the ability to ring the bell of justice,” Bridgeman said. “Be good heretics. Join me to go forth into a just free world to cease time and use it wisely.”
Bridgeman ended her speech with a poem she authored about creating new paths and self-awakening. San Marcos Councilmember Chris Jones ended the presentation with the proclamation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Week.
A tribute to King produced by the Texas State Information Technology division concluded the program.
Students march towards the LBJ Student Center Thursday night during a march for Martin Luther King, Jr.