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Emory’s King Week to celebrate many facets of his legacy

Emory University celebrates King Week, Jan. 15-22, with service projects, lectures, panels, an awards ceremony and more.

By Kelundra Smith Jan. 11, 2023

Emory’s King Week is a series of programs to honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

"…[S]ay that I was a drum major for justice, say that I was a drum major for peace, I was a drum major for righteousness and all of the shallow things will not matter."

Martin Luther King Jr. preached these words on Feb. 4,1968, from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. In “The Drum Major Instinct,” King reflected on what he wanted his legacy to be just two months before he died. From Jan. 15-22, all of Emory is invited to engage in similar reflection during the annual King Week celebration.

This year, the theme for King Week at Emory aligns with the King Center’s theme, which is “It Starts with Me: Cultivating a Beloved Community Mindset to Transform Unjust Systems.” King’s youngest daughter, Bernice, is an alumna of Emory’s Candler School of Theology and CEO of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

Through a series of lectures, panel discussions and worship services, students, faculty and staff are encouraged to reflect on how they can be drum majors for justice on campus and beyond.

“The continuing work of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion will require all of us to participate,” says Carol Henderson, Emory’s chief diversity officer, vice provost for diversity and inclusion and one of the King Week coordinating co-chairs. “I want people to think about how they can become a part of the movement to transform Emory into a more inclusive campus community. All of us can’t do everything, but all of us can do something. What is your ‘I’ in the word community?”

Martin Luther King Jr. looks up at Kelly Ingram Park (former site of fire hose and police dog attacks) in Birmingham, Alabama in 1966 at a voter education rally.

Emory’s Day On

On Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the entire community is invited to participate in Emory’s Day On, which includes a dozen volunteer service projects across metro Atlanta. Sponsored by the Center for Civic and Community Engagement, projects are scheduled from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Faculty, staff and students are invited to sign up to volunteer by Jan. 15.

This year’s projects include everything from supporting those living with disabilities to outdoor maintenance and cleanup at local trails and parks. New this year, students will have the chance to visit the King Center and help organize and sort donations. Johannes Kleiner, director of student-led community engagement in the Center for Civic and Community Engagement, hopes people will take the opportunity to continue King’s work.

“Early on, MLK Day became a holiday that combines remembrance and service,” says Kleiner. “As King said, ‘anybody can serve,’ and the work in racial justice, addressing inequalities, class, poverty and worker’s rights in the U.S. is not finished. We are the people called to do the work and who can do the work.” 

Emory’s Day On will start at 11 a.m. in the Student Center multipurpose room for a kickoff event with food, t-shirts and speeches as well as check-in for specific trips. To secure a spot and to learn more, sign up on the Open Emory website.

Words that inspire

In addition to the service projects, King Week will include sermons, film screenings and discussions. From student debates to the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Awards, there is something for every age group and interest.

On Jan. 15 at 11 a.m., the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life will host its annual King Sunday Worship Service in Cannon Chapel. This year, Rev. Tolton Pace 00C 02PH will deliver the sermon. An engaged Emory alumnus, Pace recently completed a two-year term as co-president of the Caucus of Emory Black Alumni, and he previously served as Emory College’s assistant dean of admission and director of multicultural recruitment. He currently serves as manager of strategic partnerships and grant programs for the Home Depot Foundation, where he leads philanthropic strategy and investments in Atlanta and across the country.

 “We are delighted that our MLK Sunday preacher this year is Rev. Tolton Pace, who has put his values in action in religious, business and community spaces,” says Rev. Greg McGonigle, dean of religious life and university chaplain. “In addition to being an active alumni leader, as a student he was a member of Emory’s Voices of Inner Strength gospel choir. This King Sunday we will also celebrate a new endowment for the choir, which has been supporting racial justice, spirituality and music at Emory for decades.”

On Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6 p.m., the Department of African American Studies will host an event, “Call My Lawyer: Fred Gray and Civil Rights Lawyering in the African American Freedom Struggle.” Gray first gained national recognition in 1955 when he represented Rosa Parks after her arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. The incident sparked the Montgomery bus boycott ,and Gray went on to serve as King’s first civil rights attorney. He also served as counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of individuals involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In July 2022, President Joe Biden awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

Oxford College will also host its annual celebration on Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. in Old Church. The celebration will feature Marla Frederick, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Religion and Culture at Candler School of Theology, as the keynote speaker. Frederick researches the sustainability of African American religious institutions in the U.S. The event will also include remarks from student leaders as well as performances by Oxappella (Oxford's a cappella group), a string quartet and the Newton County Martin Luther King Jr. Interdenominational Choir. This event is free and open to the public.

Wade Manora Jr., director of student diversity, equity and inclusion at Oxford, says he hopes the King Week events will encourage students to adopt King’s approach of collaborating with people from different backgrounds to create positive change they want to see in the campus environment.

“I believe that Dr. King’s legacy and teachings will always be something remarkable to learn from no matter the year and as long as any form of injustice or inequality exists,” says Manora. “It is my hope that students can learn how to harness their voices and energy toward worthy causes like Dr. King did. He was in his mid-20s when he embarked on something that changed the world.”

For a full list of King Week events, view the website.

Events at Morehouse

This year, members of the Emory community will have a special opportunity to visit Morehouse College and view the King Collection at the Woodruff Library on the Atlanta University Center campus.

Thursday, Jan. 26, 5:30 p.m.: Morehouse King Collection Lecture and Conversation, moderated by national political commentator Bakari T. Sellers

Monday, Jan. 30, 5:30 p.m.: Morehouse College King Collection Viewing of Documents, marking the 60thanniversary of the March on Washington

For more information, contact Jordan Ross.

March Against Fear in Jackson, Mississippi, 1966

All photos from the Bob Fitch Photography Archive, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

Emory King Week 2023 events

Here are just a few of the events planned for Emory King Week:

Sunday, Jan. 15, 11 a.m.: King Sunday Worship Service

Monday, Jan. 16, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m.: Emory’s Day On

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 6 p.m.: “The Union Difference: A Dialogue on Economic Justice” presented by the Barkley Forum, Emory Conversation Project, and Volunteer Emory

Tuesday, Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m.: Oxford Campus Celebration of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday, Jan. 18, 4 p.m.: “Call My Lawyer: Fred Gray and Civil Rights Lawyering in the African American Freedom Struggle” lecture and book signing

Thursday, Jan. 19, 4 p.m.: MLK Community Service Awards 2023

View the full calendar of Emory King Week events