The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Unity Dinner is organized by Residence Education and Housing Services, or REHS; the Residence Halls Association, or RHA; the Division of Student Life and Engagement, or SLE; and the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.
On Jan. 16, Michigan State held its 20th Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Unity Dinner at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center as part of MSU’s 44th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration events. Several hundred people attended, including student leaders from the Black Students’ Alliance and North American Indigenous Student Organization and staff and faculty members from across campus. The dinner was established in 2004 to engage more staff and faculty in the commemoration.Third-year student Maleah Miller sings "His Eyes on the Sparrow" at the 44th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Community Unity Dinner. Photograph by Chris Buller
MSU music performance major Kevon Thompson kicked off the evening by singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The emcees of the evening, REHS Assistant Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dreux Baker and RHA Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Megan Smejkal, took it from there. When Interim President Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., spoke, she shared about MSU’s history of hosting Black leaders — including King and anti-apartheid activist and politician Nelson Mandela — to visit and speak on campus.
Baker, Smejkal and Woodruff each emphasized the importance of courageous leadership, especially for the students honored by the 2023-24 MLK Endowed Scholarship. Recipients were asked to stand and be recognized for their efforts in building inclusive communities that fight injustice and promote equality for all. The students honored with the award include:
• Jasmin Banks, a fourth-year student studying psychology
• Jania Clowers, a third-year student studying journalism
• Nicholas Gattoni, a fourth-year student studying landscape architecture
• Lauren Harding, a second-year student studying psychology
• Makenna Martinez, a third-year student studying social work
• Hazel von Maur, a fourth-year student studying nursing
• Canon Mongo, a second-year student studying political theory and constitutional democracy
• Choaye Zi, a third-year student studying nursing
Student speakers Donovan Fobbs and LiChail Gaines discussed personal hurdles in their activism journeys. While Fobbs shared how he lives by King’s advice of having a tough mind and a tender heart, Gaines described her first act of civil disobedience — a 2019 protest with the Black Students’ Alliance at the Hannah Administration Building.
Blaire Morseau, a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians and 1855 Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and American Indian and Indigenous Studies in the College of Arts and Letters, was this year’s keynote speaker. She delivered an impassioned speech about the importance of working to make a future full of opportunities for underrepresented groups. Blaire talked about how, after COVID-19, the world wanted everything to return to normal, but she pointed out that “Normal has been the site of many communities’ dystopia.”
The evening wrapped up with Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D., giving thanks to those who helped organize the event and noting to the audience, “We are more alike and share more struggles than we may believe.”
All photos by Chris Buller