Northwestern gathers to celebrate MLK at candlelight vigil


Leeks Lim/The Daily Northwestern

Kellogg Prof. Nicholas Pearce delivers the keynote speech during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Candlelight Vigil. Pearce discussed the importance of working hard to promote justice and equality.

Matthew Choi, Assistant Campus Editor

Candlelight and solemn voices filled Alice Millar Chapel on Monday during the 37th annual candlelight vigil honoring the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The vigil, started in 1980 by the Alpha Mu chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, is held every year in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The result of a year of planning by the Evanston Campus MLK Commemoration Committee and Alpha Phi Alpha, this year’s vigil featured a keynote speech from Kellogg Prof. Nicholas Pearce and a ceremony in which excerpts from King’s speech, “Where Do We Go From Here” were read.

In his address, Pearce spoke about the importance of using a college education to improve the greater community. Life should not be lived on autopilot, but should be built on the goal of bettering society, Pearce said.

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life,” Pearce said. “Don’t wait for applause. You will sometimes walk alone. But you owe it to yourselves to dream big dreams … and walk boldly.”

In addition to being a professor at Kellogg, Pearce is also involved in several religious and community organizations across the Chicago area, including the Chicago Community Trust’s African American Legacy initiative, where he serves on the board, and the Apostolic Church of God, where he is an assistant pastor.

“(Nicholas Pearce) just sort of brings to the community his own personal peace activism and ministry,” said Medill Prof. Charles Whitaker, co-chair of the Evanston Campus MLK Commemoration Committee and a former board member of Student Publishings Co., The Daily’s parent company, “We like to, when possible, feature members of the Northwestern community in that particular address. We just thought he’s a wonderful choice.”

Following Pearce’s address, McCormick senior Joshua Wright, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, read from King’s 1967 speech “Where Do We Go From Here” as attendees lit candles.

“I must confess, my friends, the road ahead will not always be smooth,” Wright read. “There will be rocky places of frustration and meandering points of bewilderment … Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The event also included a musical performances by a cappella group Soul4Real and an invocation by Associate Chaplain Tahera Ahmad, who spoke about King’s relationship with Malcolm X and recited verses from the Quran.

Alpha Phi Alpha first started the vigil to commemorate King, who was a member of the fraternity, before the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The vigil also provides an opportunity to reflect on the work of King and the work left to be done toward racial equality, said Whitaker, who has co-chaired the committee for four years.

“There are some disturbing parallels between Dr. King’s time and the time in which we currently live,” Whitaker said. “That’s not to say there hasn’t been progress, but there’s still much more work to be done on the civil rights, social justice front, and this commemoration provides us with an opportunity to think about how we will continue to work to provide justice for all citizens.”

Since the first vigil, the celebration has grown to a week of programming commemorating King, including a day of service and a student orator contest. Alpha Phi Alpha Chapter President Damilola Arowolaju, who also served on the planning committee, said he was happy to see how far the celebration has progressed.

“It’s great that the entire community is joining arms in celebrating and commemorating the life of MLK.” Arowolaju said. “It keeps the spirit of Dr. King alive.”

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