MLK Day celebrations begin with memorial vigil in chapel

Michelle Ma

Tony Brown heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his first “I Have a Dream” speech — and he will never forget it.

“(Dr. King) literally lifted us out of our seats,” said Brown, referring to a 1963 Civil Rights March in Detroit that he helped organize.

Brown, a television commentator for PBS, was the keynote speaker at the 26th annual Martin Luther King, Jr. candlelight vigil Thursday night.

More than 100 people gathered in Alice Millar Chapel to listen to Brown’s account of King’s message.

Northwestern Community Ensemble members and vocal soloists filled the chapel with songs in hopes of echoing King’s legacy.

A passing of candlelight — started by the candles of two members Alpha Phi Alpha, one of NU’s historically black fraternities — served as a tangible way to honor King for many observers.

“It was a nice way to remember Dr. King,” said Frederick McConnell, a Weinberg sophomore who attended the vigil. “(It brought) some attention to his life as well as the progress that must be made in the future.”

In his address, Brown urged listeners to “become something good,” recalling that King created “a heaven within him.”

“This man had a dream and a dream is simply a euphemism for reality,” Brown said.

Brown also emphasized one of the moments that impacted him most — seeing King speak at the 1963 march Brown organized.

About 500,000 people attended that march, marking an important moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

“That day I didn’t walk down the street, I floated,” Brown said.

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha worked to organize the candlelight vigil — a tradition that members have done since the vigil began in 1979.

The student-organized vigil was the only MLK Day remembrance on campus at the time. In 2000 the university began sponsoring the school-wide keynote speech on MLK day, University Chaplain Timothy Stevens said.

“The Alphas have been carrying the torch for a long time,” Stevens said. “We don’t want them swept aside.”

Alpha Phi Alpha members selected Brown — commentator of the PBS series “Tony Brown’s Journal” — to speak at this year’s vigil because of his rich legacy in civil rights causes.

Brown was the founding dean of the School of Communications at Howard University.

“(Brown) can speak to the life and legacy Dr. King lived and how students can live that today, ” said Alpha Phi Alpha Treasurer and event organizer Chris Latham, a McCormick junior.

Near the end of the vigil, members of Alpha Phi Alpha collected an offering that will go toward the Martin Luther King Memorial Project in Washington, D.C.

Last year NU’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity chapter received an award being one of the top college donors in the country, Latham said.

Vice President for Student Affairs William Banis welcomed attendees and urged all individuals to remember King’s legacy.

“It’s important for us as a nation, university and individuals,” Banis said, “to also reflect upon our ethics and values as we remember his commitment to humanity, non-violence and social justice.”

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected].