On Monday, Valparaiso University a tradition that stretches back for over 30 years – hosts programming to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that challenges and engages the community with a dialogue on continuing that legacy at Valparaiso and beyond.
The university’s 2023 MLK Day celebrations, called “Celebrating the Value of Humanity,” including a variety of focus sessions, service projects, and a reenactment of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington that led into a convocation highlighted by a keynote address from Indiana State Senator Eddie Melton.
“We think it’s incredibly important to bring new and transformative ideas to the forefront, not just for us, but for the wider Valparaiso community,” said Michael Felton, director of university communications. “Senator Melton represents so much of what this movement represents. When you look at his background, how he’s progressed in his career and the heights he’s risen to, and how he’s used his position to advocate for people less privileged.”
Melton is a Region native, born and raised in Gary as the son of a family that worked in steel and rail. His work includes direct coordination with the Barack Obama administration to implement “My Brother’s Keeper,” a program crafted to generate opportunities for boys and young men of color. He also wrote a resolution urging the state legislature to push for a greater focus on Black history in Indiana high schools.
“I was elected to Congress in Indiana as a representative of my hometown, Gary, Indiana,” he said. “This makes this day even more special for me. All leaders must ask themselves if they’re still doing the right thing, every single day. Sometimes we get discouraged, and sometimes we get distracted, but we keep going. We keep pursuing our passion, keep pursuing our purpose.”
During his address, Melton focused on how Dr. King unwaveringly pursued his vision of an equitable America in the face of unrelenting criticism and immense danger to himself and his family.
“Dr. King was a prolific leader, a man who gazed deeply into the soul of America and refused to look away,” Melton said. “I could imagine his anguish, imagine his frustration – all for a nation that he loved during a time that it didn’t love him back.
He challenged his audience to do more than reflect on Dr.King’s legacy, to build on it, and motivate others to do the same.
“Dr. King embodied social justice and humanitarianism,” Melton said. “Dr. King demonstrated that each of us is equipped to change the world, starting with ourselves, within our own individual humanity. He left it to us, not only to continue his legacy but to inspire others to see themselves as change agents.”
The reenactment of the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington was filled with people taking steps to meet that challenge – students, faculty, and community members alike. They carried signs demanding equity through civil rights, rent control, equal education, fair wages, and more.
“This is necessary so that we can make these changes, it’s necessary so that we can show that we support our rights and our movement,” said Iso Ogli, a Valparaiso University student and member of the Black Student Organization. “This is my identity, and we’re paying homage to the people who lived the part [of history] that allows us to be here today.”
During the convocation, Valparaiso University President José Padilla awarded the university’s annual Faculty and Staff MLK Award to Michael Chikeleze, Ph.D, and presented the Inaugural MLK Community Drum Major Instinct Award to Melton.
“Just like Martin Luther King Jr., Eddie has spent his life giving a voice to the voiceless,” Padilla said.
To learn more about Valparaiso University, visit www.valpo.edu.