This week on campus, Notre Dame's MLK committee will present a series of events honoring the life and acheivements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By CHRISTIE BOLSEN
Almost 40 years before the collapse of the World Trade Center, Martin Luther King, Jr. had already predicted the remedy for America's distress.
"Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time … Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love," King said.
His words, spoken as he accepted his Nobel Prize in 1964, ring as true today during America's time of sorrow as they did decades ago.
In honor of this illustrious activist for peace, acceptance and love, Notre Dame will be celebrating with its annual series of events aimed at promoting King's values, especially in the wake of recent tragedies.
The theme, "Operation Love: Making A Difference Piece By Peace," alludes not only to the current war situation but also to King's outlook on life. More personal and introspective topics will be addressed this year as compared to the past. All three events welcome community attendance, as well as the student body.
The events, which are unique every year, provide an opportunity for students and faculty together to voice opinions and relate experiences.
The week's activities will commence with "From the Inside Out: An Expression of Self through Dance, Poetry and Music." Martin Luther King committee members sought out performers by going to venues in the community and asking about talent, as well as through word of mouth from students.
The result was a wide variety of responses from creative musicians, poets and dancers. Junior Santiago Gurule, who is a first year member of the committee, will be the emcee.
"We've been going through some pretty hard times as of late, and we really wanted to allow people to reflect in whatever form they wished to. So really it's going to be a mix … We wanted to do something to commemorate [King's] legacy, to bring in the community and get people thinking," Gurule said.
The goal of this particular event is to allow the participants, both performers and audience members, to convey their personal emotions and reach out. Just as King strove to promote understanding among people, "From the Inside Out" hopes to achieve the same.
"I think when you see somebody express themselves, it really evokes a sort of passion in people … our main goal is we really want people to come with open hearts and connect with the performers. It's so important that we communicate our thoughts and our feelings with each other," Gurule said.
Continuing with the theme of communication, the next event will be "Speaking the Truth: A Fireside Chat with Student Leaders and Others."
As opposed to panel discussions usually held on campus, the forum will be more casual and open than a formal discussion so everyone can feel comfortable speaking. Instead of having the panel on a stage, this year's will be seated with the listeners so there can be more audience participation. Joyce DeLeon, head of the diversity division of student government and a member of last year's panel, will be the moderator for the discussion.
Junior Kat Walsh, who became involved with the committee her freshman year, is in charge of this year's discussion. The goal is to have everyone present feel relaxed enough to join the conversation, so the panelists will not be singled out until they are introduced at the end.
The emphasis of the fireside chat topics will be on how to apply King's dreams and morals to present-day life. Shamus Rohn, a junior who became involved with the MLK committee this year, will be one of the student panelists.
"I hope that people are going to leave the chat with both a better understanding of different perspectives on what's going on right now in the world with issues of race, prejudice, etc. and also I hope they can come away with a better understanding of how they personally can affect this situation in a positive way," Rohn said.
Another student panelist, sophomore Joshiekka Outlaw, believes that the celebratory aspect of King's words is valuable to remember in these times. "His message transcends any generation … [the chat] is welcome to everybody and diversity is appreciated," Outlaw said.
The finale of "Operation Love" is the focal point of the entire celebration.
"The Peace Quilt: Tied Together in the Single Garment of Destiny" began with an idea from a sophomore committee member to make a quilt, an old African-American tradition that symbolized history. Quilts were sacred items in the home because of the stories and sentimental value sewn into the finished product.
The Peace Quilt required the time, effort and coordination of not only the MLK committee, but also the rest of Notre Dame and the surrounding community.
The process began with a kit to make a rainbow quilt. The committee approved of the colorful pattern, which was ideal for a week about harmony and diversity.
The next part of the quilt- making procedure involved the residence halls and over 40 South Bend elementary schools. All dorms and schools were asked to design their own patch.
Susan Good, a technology consultant at the law school, sewed the decorated patches together. Although there was plenty of money in the budget, Good voluntarily gave her time and skill to the creation of the Peace Quilt without payment. Her uncle, Holy Cross priest Steve Gibson, constructed a stand to display the final quilt. Chandra Johnson, a committee administrative co-chair, watched the development of the quilt from pieces of cloth to a work of art.
"I saw it, and it is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Johnson said.
She sees the quilt as a symbol of coming together, of progressing from squares with glitter or doves or a big Zahm Z to a breathtaking representation of an entire community's interpretation of peace.
As one of the leaders of the MLK committee, she admits that she was uncertain about the quilt idea at first because of the amount of organization and work involved. All the components eventually came together, however — especially when the patches began returning to her with vibrant and special pictures of peace.
"I'm going to explain the process of the quilt-making spiritually and theologically at the prayer service on Thursday, so that the community who comes can understand how something that looks very, very difficult to do in the beginning actually becomes a divine work of art — it's the process of putting forth the effort," Johnson said.
The quilt, not easy to make but spectacular to see, is an appropriate way of honoring King and the adversity he overcame to realize his famous dream.
The committee hopes the quilt can be prominently displayed on campus so that everyone who views it will see the importance of looking at not only each singular patch, with its solitary model of love and peace, but also stepping back and seeing how each distinct square connects on all sides with the others to become even more impressive. Johnson emphasizes the importance of joining together in the midst of incredible changes in our world.
"We've been trained to see an aesthetic reality of a person and to immediately put them into a category," Johnson said.
The Peace Quilt was crafted in memory of King's ideals of acceptance and tolerance, to discourage that judging of people based on appearance and the pushing away of those who are different.
Just like in African-American tradition, the Peace Quilt is indeed a sacred item — for its meaning, its stories, and its beauty.
Ken Seifert is the chairperson of this year's MLK committee, which is hand selected by the administrative co-chairs. The committee is comprised of students and faculty from a diverse array of departments and backgrounds.
The result is a group of individuals who bring varied perspectives to the weekly meetings. For example, Notre Dame students Jourdan Sorrell, Darius Stewart and Habibah Bell even witnessed last spring's KKK rally firsthand as they and many others staged an opposing rally. They brought this experience with them to meeting discussions.
Seifert, who is heading the committee for the second year in a row, stresses the importance of self-analysis. Participants will be encouraged to assess their own responsibilities in seeking answers to the problems of society through Dr. King's message of tolerance and non-violence. He hopes that the events will help individuals look at their personal behaviors and prejudices, which is the first step to improving race relations.
Most importantly, Seifert wants every single participant to walk away with a positive feeling.
According to administrative co-chair Priscilla Wong, the focus will be on inspiring kindness.
"Our goal is to challenge the Notre Dame community, especially in light of the Sept. 11 incident, to examine our role and response to uplifting humanity," Wong said. Each MLK committee member has been working since fall to achieve this goal, hoping to elevate spirits in South Bend.
Contact Christie Bolsen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Scene Stories for Monday, January 21, 2002