Renewing Civil Society

Looking forward, looking back

Students, faculty and the community gathered last month to celebrate and honor the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr.

JMU’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Week Celebration took place Jan. 15-19. This year’s theme, “Reclaiming His Dream: Kneeling for Justice, Rising for Peace,” was reflective of King’s life and legacy as a civil rights leader. 

The Center for Multicultural Student Services at JMU collaborates with local civic organizations, churches, K-12 schools and nonprofit agencies to organize the event, which dates to 1986. The week has evolved to include a march, candlelighting ceremony, community service and outreach, poetry jams, and campus dialogues around civic and social justice issues.

Civil rights activist and educator Kevin Powell, the keynote speaker at this year’s formal program, was impressed with JMU’s celebration.

“I have spoken at well over 1,000 colleges in the 20-plus years I have been on the speaking circuit,” he said afterward via social media. “But few have been as incredible as what I experienced last night at James Madison University. I am richer for the experience.” 

Powell added that he was struck by President Alger’s “humility, willingness to listen to all, including young people, and his vision for student engagement there at JMU. This is what leadership should look like across the board.” 

Reflecting on the week, CMSS director Valarie Ghant noted that the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is not far in our nation’s past, and there is still a need for meaningful, constructive dialogue today. 

“It’s important to remember how far we’ve come in the areas of politics, law and governance, civic engagement and social justice, all under the umbrella of diversity, access and inclusion,” Ghant says.

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