Students Celebrate King’s Legacy with Community, Service

Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Students at a prayer service on Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Jr. in 2019 is a nearly larger-than-life figure who represents different things for different people — he’s an inspiration to those fighting for justice, symbol of the true American spirit, a master strategist for a broad social movement, or a reminder of where the country has been and where it has yet to go in achieving true peace and equality.

On Monday Rockhurst University and the SEEK student interfaith council once again honored the multifaceted legacy of King and the movement founded in solidarity he helped build with an interfaith prayer ceremony and a day of service, with more than 100 students and community members serving with organizations across Kansas City. Later in the day, the University’s Black Student Union held its first-ever Dream Fest at the bell tower, further celebrating King’s life and legacy.

It wasn’t always so clear that the work would be celebrated. In the two years before his 1968 assassination, two-thirds of American polled held an unfavorable view of him, according to sophomore Aria Townsend, who delivered a student reflection as part of the prayer ceremony. Townsend said King’s moral courage and the movement around him helped power massive shifts in the political, legal and social fabric of the nation.

“He did all of this despite the social isolation and physical violence it caused him. Dr. King put himself in the path of racist vitriol, political slander and, ultimately, death — all to better the lives of so many people for generations to come,” she said. “This is the meaning of ‘radical love.’”

It was because of that commitment to radical love, not in spite of it, that the civil rights movement was able to grow into an intersectional, inclusive call for a more just world, something that Townsend later said echoes Rockhurst’s own core values.

“[King] embodied the University’s theme of cura personalis,” she said.

The day’s events reflected a similar spirit of solidarity. St. Monica’s choir, joined by student and campus community musicians and singers, led the crowd in a rendition of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me. Students spent the afternoon serving organizations and groups who in certain ways continue King’s work, calling for peace from gun violence alongside KC Mothers in Charge and helping load trucks at Project Uplift to feed the homeless in the community, to name a few. Freshman Emily Dickson, one of the student planners of the event, acknowledged both the past and the present of King’s legacy as she introduced the event.

“We are gathered together to renew our work for justice, peace and love,” she said. “There’s so much work left to be done.”