Pfeiffer University celebrated the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. with a series of events over four days, offering students moderated discussions and multimedia experiences, including “Unity,” which Tasker Brown, a sophomore communications major, created for an art show.
The offerings, which began on MLK Day proper (Jan. 18) as the current spring semester was beginning, aimed to complement Peiffer’s ongoing response to the death of George Floyd and other grim instances of systemic racism this past summer.
“We’ve been doing a lot of racial equity work,” said University Chaplain Maegan Habich, who served as one of the principal organizers of this year’s MLK Day at Pfeiffer.
“We’ve presented student programming and faculty programming. We are in the process of creating new institutional language and policies. This past MLK Day was an outgrowth of that. It’s also a strong indication that we’re becoming less reactive and more proactive, which, I think, is a better place to be.”
The goal of each presentation was to help students “grow as critical thinkers, citizens, allies and activists,” while honoring King’s legacy as this country’s most important civil rights leader. The lineup was diverse: It began with Dr. Michael Thompson, the school’s Provost, leading conversations about Pfeiffer’s historical contribution to integration (see related story).
It concluded with a virtual curated tour of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum of Greensboro, N.C., after which Brenda James, one of several members of the Greensboro Sit-Ins, talked to the tour’s participants. Dr. Elizabeth Harrison, an Associate Professor of Music at Pfeiffer, spearheaded the museum tour, for which 100 tickets were made available. If students couldn’t make the tour organized for Pfeiffer’s MLK Day, virtual and in-person tours were still available to them for a modest fee.
Along the way, an “Intersections” session provided students a chance to hear a recording of King delivering “A Knock at Midnight,” his famed sermon from 1962. “Intersections” happen regularly at Pfeiffer, and each is designed to engage students with a topic at “the intersection between faith and learning.”
There was also a visual art component in the 2021 MLK Day celebrations at Pfeiffer. This took the form of “Feast Your Eyes (And Feed Others),” an exhibit that opened the evening of Jan. 18 in the Langley Lounge of the Stokes Student Center.
Admission to “Feast Your Eyes” was one canned food item. All the collected food items were donated to the Cooperative Christian Ministry, which is based in Concord, N.C.
For students wishing to read and discuss their poetry or that of other writers, there were plenty of opportunities to do that in “Honoring Black Voices: A Slam Poetry Session,” which was organized and moderated by Dr. Ashley Schoppe, an Assistant Professor of English at Pfeiffer.
The slam aimed to lift up the voices of people of color during Black History Month. As such, it stipulated that poets of color could share their own work, while white participants were asked to be “allies” by reading the works of African-American poets.
Kyleaf Holland, a junior at Pfeiffer, hails from Jamestown, N.C. He expects to graduate in 2022 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He read two of his poems at the slam, both written earlier this month: “Dear Black Women,” which illuminates many aspects of the black female experience, and “Hopeless,” a response to the mistreatment of African-Americans.
“These poems honor what Dr. King and many other black activists and revolutionists could see happening with the black community in regard to struggles taking place internally and externally for centuries,” Holland said. “Also, both poems honor the fatherhood and selflessness we could see in Dr. King through his support of black women.”
Habich described this year’s MLK Day events at Pfeiffer as “a super communal effort” and thanked the many people involved in making them happen. These people included not only Habich, Harrison and Schoppe but also members of the Racial Equity Student Programming sub-committee and the student scholars of the Francis Center for Student Leadership.
The most recent MLK Day at Pfeiffer differed markedly from previous efforts, which focused on encouraging students to participate in a community service project. Lea Hilton ’21, a Francis Scholar from Kannapolis, N.C., who’s double-majoring in counseling & human services and in communications, favors adopting the format of multiple events over several days for future MLK celebrations.
“One plus is that students can participate in these events based on what they know they will enjoy,” she said. “If a student does not enjoy art, he or she can go watch a documentary and vice versa. Another plus is the many Pfeiffer Life opportunities that students can complete their first week back. Lastly, this makes things more commuter-friendly because these events are being offered at different times which allows anyone and everyone to stop by.”
Mya Smith ’21, another Francis Scholar from Memphis, TN., who’s majoring in biology, also agrees with the renewed focus. She said that it “holds us accountable and impels us to understand the holiday and what it’s actually about.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.