MLK Student Celebration promotes community

Photo courtesy of gtaasu.org

The Institute held its 12th annual MLK student celebration on Jan. 20. The event, which was put on by the Office of student diversity programs, was intended to commemorate, “the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. at the Georgia Institute of Technology,” as stated by the office.

The event was the final segment of the Institute’s 10 day MLK celebration, and had been rescheduled from its original Jan. 17 date on MLK day. 

The event was put on as a student commemoration to the life and legacy of the late Martin Luther King Jr., and included student speakers, cultural performances and special tributes by student organizations paying homage to MLK through this years theme: “It starts with me: shifting priorities to create the beloved community.” The celebration began with a video put on by the African America Student Organization, or AASU.

As stated by Kemeul Russel, third-year BIOL and AASU president, “[AASU’s formation], while catalyzed by the assassination of the honorable Martin Luther King Jr., is deeply rooted in the struggles and victories of our ancestors. Ever since then, AASU has provided a social and cultural outlet for students as well as providing them with a means for advocacy on campus.”

Following the video, the MC’s for the event, Joulie Fouts and Kirby Criswell, Ms. and Mr. Georgia Tech respectively, introduced themselves, and began welcoming those who would speak and perform throughout the event. 

The first speaker was Sun Graham, president of the Institute’s Asian American Student Association, who delivered a speech entitled “Marginalized majority: the importance of prioritizing the Asian community and voice on campus.” Graham’s speech was particularly focused on the community we have at Tech, and how the recent spike in Asian American crime has, “reiterated how important it is for us to come together [as a community].” His speech, which focused on the concept of a “marginalized majority,” called to mind Dr. King’s fight against injustices in whatever form they took. He also emphasized how essential it is for the community at Tech to unite in defense of those who are marginalized and truly honor Dr. King’s legacy.

Following Graham’s speech, a co-ed dance was performed by Ramblin Raas team. In the words of Criswell, they brought “A unique energy and cultural to the stage.” After their performance, Alana Simpson, the current vice president of the African American Student Union, gave her speech, “It starts with me.”  In her speech, Simpson reflected on how important the African American ability to continue to fight for justice and equality in the face of overwhelming odds was. 

She pointed out that, even in times of crisis, when all hope seemed lost, it is essential to keep fighting for what is right. In the words of Simpson, “So yes, it starts with me. To speak up in times when our voice is underrepresented, because if I don’t, necessary opinions of the black voice won’t be heard at that time.” After Simpson’s powerful speech, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Dr. King’s former fraternity, put on an entertaining and educational performance filled with dance and reflection on the events of the past.

The inspirational performance was followed by a speech by Caleb Lanier, president of the on campus ministry known as G.I.F.T.E.D. Lanier was a student at the Institute in 2015 with three semesters left until graduation. Unfortunately, he was wrongly arrested, and spent two years in prison trying to clear his name. He used this time to grow as a person, and told this story to demonstrate that you have to understand the past of someone to truly understand their present reality. The present
reality of someone, Lanier asserts, determines their future. According to Lanier, “Your future doesn’t have to depend on the past, but your future will always depend on your decisions in the present.” Throughout the event, from spoken word to dancing and speeches, students made sure to emphasize the lasting bond and connection they had to the community at Tech: a bond that would not be possible without the actions of Martin Luther King Jr.