Dreamers in action

UND and Grand Forks community come together to celebrate vision and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Derrick Ssegawa

Derrick Ssegawa, vice president of the UND Black Student Association, hands out programs at the Gorecki Alumni Center, Monday. The portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., to his left, was created by UND biology student Asha Mohamoud. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

On yet another cold and blustery Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the University of North Dakota and City of Grand Forks embraced one another to celebrate the legacy of a great leader in action.

Kathy Fick, director and campus minister of Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Ministry, captivated those gathered at the Gorecki Alumni Center with a speech about her upbringing during the Civil Rights era, and how that ignited a pursuit of justice.

It started when her parents took her to a rally.

“It was one of the early Civil Rights marches in Iowa – that’s right, Iowa” she quipped. “There were a lot of people, but my family comprised some of the few white people at the march. When I asked what we were doing there, my mother told me, ‘these are our neighbors, and we’re here to stand with them.’”

Taking things perhaps too literally, she looked around and found nobody who lived on her block. Afterward, she asked again, and her mother told her the parable of the Good Samaritan – the story of someone who set aside historical, religious and personal bias to help a fellow traveler; setting aside the self for the good of the other.

“Justice became the fire that burned in me from that day onward,” she said.

Kathy Fick, longtime director and minister at Christus Rex, called on the community to fight for justice and sharpen their worldview during her “Dream in Action” keynote speech. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

Lenses of justice

Her parents, through their neighborly support, offered her new lenses through which to view the world, Fick said. As the Rev. King cited the Good Samaritan in his final speech, Fick realized that they saw justice the same way.

“Dr. King’s work and witness sharpened the vision I had with these lenses of justice and compassion,” she said. “I understood my place in the world in a new way – we were all interconnected and I was not exempt. I was not greater, nor was I less than another human being.”

After 30 years at the University and Christus Rex, Fick says she still answers the call to compassion and justice each day. In a time of seeming division, she asked the audience to work as neighbors — to sharpen their visions of society and the world around them.

“We can’t do it all on our own, but nothing is beyond us, collectively,” she said. “Let us face one another with compassion, laying aside fear, setting aside arrogance and pride – holding onto the witness of the man that we honor today.”

‘Fire under my feet’

As announced at last year’s event, this year celebrated its first “Dream in Action Awards.” Pete Haga, community relations officer with the City of Grand Forks, introduced the awards, saying they are in league with King’s dream, leadership, principles and hopes.

Nikki Berg Burin

Four winners were welcomed on stage to be recognized for their leadership in action, two of whom were specifically selected from the UND community.

Nikki Berg Burin, assistant professor of history and women and gender studies, received an award as a gifted scholar activist with a passion for justice, said UND President Mark Kennedy.

“She partners with allies inside and out to combat human trafficking, contemporary slavery and other modern-day scourges,” he said. “Her work in North Dakota exemplifies Martin Luther King Jr.’s understanding of education, the goal of which he said is ‘intelligence plus character.’”

Berg Burin says it’s humbling to have any sort of award with King’s name attached, reminding her that the things she does matter.

“It’s been a fresh fire under my feet,” she said. “I have to do more; I have to be a better ally. Now I have to live up to this – it’s great. There are so many freedom and justice movements that need our attention. If we all work together, I think we’ll make progress to all of them.”

Warren Sai

UND student Warren Sai was one of four award-winners for the first-ever Dream in Action Awards. Originally from France, his service on campus and activity in the community earned him a nomination for the award. Sai also opened a coffee and crepes business on campus called French Taste. Photo by Jackie Lorentz/UND Today.

French connection

Also selected from UND was Warren Sai, a French business student who has been active both on campus and in the community. His affiliations span the UND International Organization, leadership of the African Student Union, service chair for UND’s Alpha Kappa Psi chapter, the Feast of Nations committee and student staffer at the UND Cultural Center. He also coaches soccer for the Greater Grand Forks Soccer Club and organized opportunities to share French culture through Canadian bus tours and Grand Forks community events. Most recently, Sai started a coffee and crepes business called French Taste in UND’s Memorial Union.

“As I went to school in France, I learned about Dr. King,” he said, noting his father was from central Africa and his mother came from the Caribbean. “I feel like today there is improvement, and as we go forward people have more rights and they get to express themselves freely. I don’t think I’d be able to do what I’m doing 60 years ago.”

But today, because of trail-blazers like King, his dreams are possible, he says. He’s happy to be at a place like UND that represents leaders in action. The UND College of Business & Public Administration has given him opportunities to make his own dreams reality.

“I would say first you have to have a vision,” he said when asked how to encourage others to follow a life of service. “But you also need to have heart. When you have those two connected, then your dream can be in action.”