Students, staff members mark MLK day with events

Jakirah Morrison, freshman undecided, walks in a silent protest around Point Park’s campus and surrounding areas such as Market Square and PPG Place on Monday with other students and faculty members. This was one of the few events going on to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Written By Alexander Popichak, Editor-in-Chief

While classes were cancelled for the Martin Luther King holiday Jan. 16, students and faculty honored the civil rights leader through a day’s worth of events.

On-campus events began with a walking vigil and brunch for campus leaders and staff members. Assistant Coordinator of Student Involvement Kate Shipley coordinated the effort of the annual event, which was traditionally limited to a banquet for student leaders, to include the walking vigil.

“We decided to do something a little more interactive,” Shipley said after the walk Monday. “I also really liked the idea of showing students ways that they can get involved that are really not difficult. We’ve been hearing a lot about people thinking that their one voice doesn’t matter, so I wanted to have an active, participatory event in which students could see how they can make a difference.”

In addition to the on-campus vigil and screening of Selma, the office of Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership (SAIL) and the Office of Student Life organized a trip for students to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C..

The student leader walking vigil and march began with a discussion of Dr. King’s use of nonviolent protests and a TED talk on the topic of how nonviolent protests can be effective.

“I really liked the use of introducing the student leaders here and the staff in attendance here to various forms of nonviolent protest,” said Colten Gill, Executive Director of CAB Monday. “I know I personally was nervous going out for a one-mile walk and wasn‘t sure what to expect, but this really eased a lot of nervousness for me and taught me really what nonviolent protests can accomplish.”

The walking vigil began at Lawrence Hall and proceeded through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh, crossing through Market Square and down Smithfield Street.  Staff participating in the march included members of the Residence Life staff and Alumni Relations. Student Leaders from the Campus Activities Board (CAB), United Student Government and student media were represented as well in the march.

For most in attendance, this was their first foray into activist demonstration.

“I’ve been a volunteer with Planned Parenthood, so I’ve been trying to get my foot in the door there,” Gill said. “I’ve never actually participated in marches. I’ve always been supporting on the sidelines.”

The SAIL office provided signs with messages of peace to those participating in the march. While the walking vigil was not promoting any specific cause, the show of solidarity drew approval from passersby.

In all, the SAIL office reported that 38 students and staff members attended the brunch, and 35 students and staff members took part in the march itself.

“It was nice that for the first time in a very long time to give you all an opportunity to share in what Dr. Martin Luther King stood for,” said Keith Paylo, dean of students in his closing remarks. “When I saw the title of the event, ‘The Quiet Power of Nonviolent Resistance,’ as a closing remark, I would encourage and really ask you to get involved in causes you feel passionate about and believe in.”

Shipley said she was pleased with the attendance of the event, despite  taking place on a day when the university did not hold classes.  The bus trip to D.C. was filled and had a waiting list according to student life staff members.

Using the holiday as a teaching moment on activism was not lost on students participating in the day’s events, and according to participants, talking honestly about nonviolent activism is topical.

“Especially with everything going on with the election and with all the issues that are really stirred up right now, I think understanding and looking at nonviolent protest as a ways to communicate disagreements and those passions that people have is a really great way to communicate,” Gill said. “I think this really opened up my eyes to what nonviolent protests can be.”