Dream in Action: MLK celebration at UND

Campus, community leaders recognize lasting legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., through words, art and a call to action

Susy Ngale

UND biology student Susy Ngale sings the song “Rise Up” as a tribute to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., during an MLK Day observance held Monday at the UND Gorecki Alumni Center. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Tamba-Kuii Bailey reminded the UND and Grand Forks communities of Martin Luther King Jr.’s true legacy – action.

“Dr. King’s legacy demands that we do his work not as some static point in world history made up of old speeches and illustrations,” said Bailey, an assistant professor of counseling psychology and community services at UND, during his keynote speech on MLK Day at the Gorecki Alumni Center. “But we must view his legacy as a shining beacon of light calling us to action from the shores of freedom, dignity, social justice and human rights for all.”

The celebration of the 50th Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “The Dream in Action,” also featured words by UND President Mark Kennedy, Pete Haga, on behalf of Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, as well as musical performances by biology student Susy Ngale, the Grand Cities Children’s Choir and six-year-old harpist, Mila Drago.

The event was coordinated by the City of Grand Forks and UND.

Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor of counseling psychology and community services at UND, delivers the keynote address at a joint UND-City of Grand Forks celebration of MKLK Day at the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor of counseling psychology and community services at UND, delivers the keynote address at a joint UND-City of Grand Forks celebration of MLK Day at the Gorecki Alumni Center on the UND campus. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Breaking the silence

For Bailey, the start of King’s work is self-evaluation and reflection upon society’s collective silence toward continued oppression of racial minorities, whether through police brutality, housing and loan discrimination, gerrymandering or rampant incarceration.

“It can only be through this examination of our silence that we develop a moral consciousness, a movement to action,” he said.

“Our society must be transformed from a ‘thing’-oriented society to a ‘person’-centered society that cannot be conquered by racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia and other sources of silence,” Bailey continued.

Bailey cited King’s work in opposing “adjustment to injustice.” Rather, he said, society must become maladjusted to injustices and policies that oppress individuals and groups around the world.

By embracing love, the struggles of the oppressed may become our own, thus propelling us to action, Bailey said.

As for qualifying action, Bailey broke it down succinctly.

Action is validating the experiences of the oppressed; providing them a voice and standing with them when they tell their story. Action is activism and engaging in social justice. Action works with a community to develop solutions to its problems. And, perhaps most importantly, action is a journey to which we must all be committed, he said.

King’s capstone

Kennedy examined Monday’s holiday with an academic eye.

“America was founded on the idea of ‘us,’” he said to a crowd of about 200 people. “By embracing the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free’ over the centuries, America earned a lifetime rating of ‘A’ in ‘us.’ Getting an ‘A’ in ‘us’ is the underlying dynamic that truly makes our nation, US, with an ‘A ’ – USA.”

He noted the country’s grade has slipped recently as politics and discourse continue in a divisive direction.

Kennedy then suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. Day may very well be the culmination of all holidays. Like students taking a capstone course that integrates everything they’ve learned in their field, the holiday honoring King embodies the lessons of all holidays.

Kennedy said, it is to remind us that, as King believed, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is – what are you doing for others?’”

MLK Day at UND 2018

With no classes at UND on MLK Day, students were among about 200 at the Gorecki Alumni Center for Monday’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Photo by Shawna Schill/UND Today.

Grander challenge

Haga read a statement from Mayor Brown and announced how the city plans to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy in 2019.

He said next year’s event will introduce “The Dream in Action Social Justice Awards.” The awards will “recognize individuals who demonstrate courage and leadership, compassion and vision, thoughtfulness and action in the pursuit of achieving, protecting or advancing the opportunities of community members.”

“Grand Forks and UND are wonderful and vibrant communities in which to live and we are committed to ensure that they are welcoming and inclusive for all,” Haga read from the mayor’s statement. “We strive to embrace diversity and it needs to be celebrated.”

Staying on key

When Ngale finished performing a rendition of “Rise Up” by Andra Day, the celebration’s emcee and President of UND’s Black Student Association, Queen Ngale, was moved to tears by her sister’s performance.

“She’s come a long way,” Ngale said after a standing ovation. “So thank you for sharing your talent with us.”

Thirty of Grand Forks’ youth, members of the Grand Cities Children’s Choir (GCCC) Primo Voce signing group, then took the stage to sing Lift Every Voice and Sing.

“We took GCCC on a performance tour to Washington D.C., and one of our stops was the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial,” GCCC leader Melanie Popejoy told UND Today. “We had learned Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ an anthem that was sung during many of (King’s) marches. To experience the memorial, to perform the song and to now sing it in our own community for this event makes history come alive for our young singers.”

Queen Ngale, who graduates in May, is hopeful events such as Monday’s community-wide MLK celebration might make a difference in Grand Forks and at UND.

“I hope after this event people can see how far we’ve come,” Ngale said. “With that said, I hope people can realize how much more work we have to do. I would like for everybody to step up and fight for human rights and civil rights.”