Only Love:​ Virtual or Live, Campuses are Central in ​Celebrating​ Martin Luther King Jr. Day

In a time of turmoil, unifying to celebrate one of history’s most significant and beloved figures offers a time to both escape and reflect. On Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Jr. Day honors the eponymous civil rights leader, 37 years after the day officially became a national holiday in 1983. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect and alter in-person gatherings, higher education institutions across the country have found unique ways to celebrate. 

Many schools have moved to virtual events this year, including keynote presentations with high profile speakers, movie screenings, online social meetings, and more. At Florida International University’s 30th MLK celebration, Bernice A. King—MLK’s own daughter—will guest as the keynote speaker.  

“We are beyond honored to have Dr. Bernice King join us as this year’s keynote speaker,” said Elizabeth Bejar, senior vice president for Academic and Student Affairs at FIU. “For the past 30 years, FIU has coordinated annual programming, and educational and service opportunities which promote equality, social justice, and peace. We take pride in offering our students numerous platforms to inspire them to build a better world for all of us.” 

Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the books Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Warmth of Other Suns will speak at Iowa State University’s MLK Jr. Legacy Series keynote. And Ruby Bridges, civil rights activist who was one of the first African-American children to attend an all-white school, leads the keynote for Syracuse University’s annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.  

The list doesn’t end there. Other speakers at schools include Yamiche Alcindor, award-winning journalist and White House correspondent for PBS Newshour, at an event co-sponsored by Grand Valley State UniversityNorthwestern University will feature activist and Project NKIA founder Mariame Kaba for a keynote address; Ethiopian American novelist Dinaw Mengestu will speak at Vanderbilt; and Oregon State University will have civil rights activist Angela Davis as a speaker for their MLK day event.  

Penn State’s 26th annual MLK symposium, a weeklong dedication to MLK Day, will include a Jazz for King concert, a sports and wellness event, and a multimedia presentation in place of the traditional candlelight vigil and march down Locust Walk. Ohio State similarly will offer a virtual version of its MLK Silent March among other events. At Purdue University, the College of Agriculture and the College of Health and Human Sciences will screen the Good Trouble documentary about legendary congressman and civil right leaders John Lewis, who passed away last year.  

For those interested in learning more about MLK Day or participating in community service, other events have you covered. Seton Hall University is offering a complimentary, one-credit workshop to celebrate their MLK Day Symposium. The day-long event features discussions about the contributions of King, institutional racism, microaggressions, rhetoric of hatred, anti-racist behavior and privilege. 

University of Colorado Boulder is organizing a food pantry and a virtual letter-writing project for its campus community to honor MLK’s legacy while giving back. And later next month, the University of Wyoming’s Division of  Student Affairs will host its 17th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Days of Dialogue to expand institutional awareness about issues of diversity and social justice, to foster an inclusive community, and to empower individuals to act in solidarity with marginalized communities. 

Ball State University will follow-up MLK Day events by kicking off February’s Black History Month with its 41st annual Unity Week. The student center art gallery will host a Tunnel of Oppression, Latinxpalooza will be in the center’s Cardinal Hall, and an event-ending March on Late Nite will begin at the student center. 

Enjoy honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy next week and beyond, and remember one of his most timely quotes: 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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