Mercer University students, faculty and staff are invited to march for unity, equality and justice on Jan. 14. Mercer’s Minority Mentor Program and Office of Diversity and Inclusion are hosting the third annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Living the Dream event on the Macon campus.
The event starts at 3 p.m. at the Bear statue near the University Center, where free “Living the Dream” shirts will be handed out to the first 100 people. It continues at 4 p.m. with a silent march from the Bear statue to Willingham Auditorium. This vigil pays homage to lives that have been lost but also serves as a beacon of hope for the future, said Dr. Ansley Booker, director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Mercer.
A program inside Willingham will begin at 4:15 p.m. and will also be streamed online. Due to space limitations, those who wish to attend in person must register in advance through an online form. Masks and social distancing will be required for all portions of the event.
“What we want to do is have an opportunity to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy,” Dr. Booker said. “Even with the vision that Dr. King had, we still have a long way to go in terms of equity, equality and inclusiveness, even within our Mercer community. We need to make sure that vision doesn’t die and that we are the bearers of that vision.”
The program will include a keynote speech by Judge Louis Sands, a 1971 graduate of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and 1974 graduate of Mercer Law School. He was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and was the first African-American to serve in a number of prominent legal roles, including assistant district attorney for the Macon Judicial Circuit, assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia, superior court judge in Bibb County, and district court judge and chief judge for the Middle District of Georgia.
Judge Sands will talk about being in the first wave of students who integrated Mercer, what “the dream” looks like today, and how Mercerians can continue to fight for Dr. King’s dream and leave behind their own legacy, Dr. Booker said.
The Living the Dream program will conclude with special awards and presentations.
“We will recognize some trailblazers on campus who we think are an inspiration,” Dr. Booker said. “They are living the dream themselves and encouraging others to live out their dreams and fight for equality and justice. Dr. King was so much about unifying people. We want to highlight some individuals who are amplifying that message on campus.”
Tracy Artis, executive director of federal TRIO Programs and Minority Affairs at Mercer, said the event is a hallmark of the Minority Mentor Program, which focuses on building relationships, showing students they are valued and helping them through personal development.
“We recognize that the Civil Rights movement is far from over, but our goal is to support our students at Mercer University through programming that will continue that narration of unity and liberation. It’s about bringing a diverse group of students together who are committed to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with our Minority Mentor Program,” Artis said. “It gives the students a sense of pride, and it reaffirms that they are part of the community. They gather from that particular program and others a sense of belonging at Mercer.”
Mercer students have the opportunity to continue celebrating Dr. King’s legacy by participating in community service activities sponsored by MerServe on Jan. 16, the Saturday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day and MLK Day of Service. This holiday is intended to be “a day on, not a day off” and an opportunity for people to work together to uplift their community, Dr. Booker said.
From 8 a.m.-noon Jan. 16, students can volunteer at All About Animals Rescue, where they will organize the warehouse, clean kennels or walk dogs; or at the Brookdale Warming Center, where they will serve meals or assist with laundry, said Lauren Shinholster, Mercer’s coordinator of community engagement. Registration is required and opens at 9 a.m. Jan. 11. Volunteers should meet in the lobby of the Connell Student Center on the morning of Jan. 16.
In addition, MerServe is offering a remote service opportunity. Through Zoom, volunteers can record themselves reading books about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or titles that inspire courage and activism. Videos should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org by noon Jan. 18. The videos will be shared with the Read United team at the United Way of Central Georgia for use in their elementary school tutoring program.