Published: Jan. 12, 2010

Mandela, Parks letters make U.S. debut at Michigan State for MLK Day

Contact(s): Paulette Granberry Russell Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives office: (517) 353-3924, Lora Helou MSU Museum office: (517) 432-3357, Kristen Parker Media Communications office: (517) 353-8942 cell: (517) 980-0709

EAST LANSING, Mich. — As Michigan State University honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s fight for social justice, an exhibition of children’s letters to civil rights leaders Nelson Mandela and the late Rosa Parks will make its United States debut at the MSU Museum on Jan. 17.

“Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks: Children’s Letters, Global Lessons” will be on display through Jan. 3, 2011. The exhibit is scheduled for a national tour after its MSU premiere.

“This powerful collection of letters encourages visitors – especially youth – to understand and be accepting of diverse cultures and traditions and become aware of the ongoing struggle for human rights around the world,” said C. Kurt Dewhurst, MSU curator of folklife and cultural heritage and one of the exhibit’s organizers. “It also helps them recognize ways to honor individuals in their own families and communities who – like Mandela and Parks – have contributed to making a better world.”

The collection first opened in July 2008 at the Nelson Mandela National Museum in Mthatha, South Africa, where it is still on view. Mthatha is Mandela’s birthplace in the Eastern Cape Province.
“Dear Mr. Mandela, Dear Mrs. Parks” was developed when the MSU Museum and the Nelson Mandela Museum were awarded a grant from a new program of the American Association of Museums, in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program was designed to strengthen connections between people in the U.S. and abroad through museum-based exchanges.
Recently, MSU alumnus Gregory Reed, the personal lawyer of Parks, announced he would add to the exhibit a collection of letters children wrote to Parks. Through his Detroit-based Keeper of the Word Foundation, Reed works to protect the legacies of authors, artists and activists. A book written by Parks and Reed was the catalyst for the development of the joint Mandela and Parks exhibition.

An opening reception will take place from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at the MSU Museum. Students from Act for Justice, an MSU speech choir, will read some of the letters during the reception.

Also on Jan. 18, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity will host a commemorative civil rights march at 3:15 p.m. The march will begin at the first-floor lobby of the MSU Union and end at Beaumont Tower. Throughout the day, students will engage in a variety of community service activities as part of “Into the Streets.” The day will end with a community dinner at 4:45 p.m. at Akers Hall Cafeteria. The event is free to MSU faculty, students and staff, but reservations are required.

Other events include:

  • MLK Student Leadership Conference and Resource Fair, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Jan. 16, MSU Union. MSU students will lead and participate in workshops that reflect King’s belief of civil rights for all. The luncheon keynote speaker will be Baldemar Velásquez, president of Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO, who made FLOC a national organization in 1978 when he led more than 2,000 workers in one of the largest agricultural strikes in the history of the Midwest. Velásquez was invited by King to help organize the “Poor People’s Campaign.”
  • “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest,” 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., Jan. 17, Pasant Theatre, Wharton Center. The commemorative concert celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., featuring Jazz Orchestra I, Vocal Jazz Ensemble I and Voices of Total Praise gospel choir performing Donald Byrd’s “Cristo Redentor Suite.” The MSU Children’s Choir, coordinated by Kristin Zaryski, also will perform. Tickets are required and can be obtained, free of charge, from the Wharton Center box office.
  • Health screenings, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Jan. 23, Boys and Girls Club of Lansing, 4315 Pleasant Grove Road. Sponsored by MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in memory of King’s commitment to community outreach, the screenings will include body mass index, height and weight measurements for children.
  • Lecture by three-time Olympian Carol Lewis, 7 p.m., Jan. 15, Room 145 Communication Arts and Sciences Building. A professional broadcaster with college degrees in radio and television journalism, Lewis is the current vice president of the United States Olympic Committee and sports analyst for NBC Sports. The lecture is free and open to the public.
  • Bone marrow registration drive, 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Jan. 16, MSU Union. Bone marrow transplantation is a common and very effective treatment for patients battling sickle cell anemia and other forms of blood disease. Registration is free and can be done with a swab of the inside of the cheek. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 60 can register.

“For MSU, the value of inclusion as one of our core values was designed to be … a community covenant that we would not simply count diversity, but respect ideas that come from a variety of cultures,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “Our celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. is a time for the community to commit itself to working on this covenant of inclusion.”

For information about other community and campus events, visit


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C. Kurt Dewhurst, curator of folk life and cultural heritage for MSU, visits the exhibition at the Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha, South Africa. The exhibit will make its U.S. debut at the MSU Museum on Jan. 17. Photo by Lora Helou.

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