Ball State celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Derick Virgil have something in common: Both are new to Ball State.

In his first year as director of the Multicultural Center, Virgil will not only witness as Ball State observes MLK Day, but he served as chairman of the MLK Day Celebration Committee, a task force formed to oversee the MLK Unity Week activities.

"If I can help one student realize his or her ability to change society as an individual, then I think I have accomplished what I was supposed to do as chair," he said.

Virgil said he wanted to incorporate King's theory of cooperation and togetherness.

"The basic objective was to organize the activities in such a way that times for the different functions would not overlap," he said. "We also wanted to fulfill the main goal of King's dream to help others by actively participating in activities to promote unified cooperation among society."

The events, which are being sponsored by campus organizations, include an early morning breakfast and a host of seminars Monday at First Merchants Bank, 200 E. Jackson St., and Muncie Central High School, 801 N. Walnut. St. A shuttle bus will be available at 6:45 a.m. in front of Emens for the breakfast

Then, at 6 p.m. Monday, the first of two marches will commence at Christ Temple Church, 654 N. Jefferson St. Another shuttle bus will be in front of Emens at 5:45 p.m. for the evening march. There will be another march at 7 p.m. Tuesday from LaFollette Field to Emens Auditorium, sponsored by Housing and Residence Life.

Tuesday evening will end with a speech by Rev. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. She will speak at 8 p.m. in Emens Auditorium. The event is sponsored by the president's office.

"It's progress that the president's office would sponsor a speaker like Bernice King," Virgil said. "It says a lot about the faculty and the progressiveness of the school.

"(King) is the prodigy of the man himself, and it could be once in a lifetime opportunity."

Virgil said, though, he is especially anticipating Thursday's panel discussion on race relations. The forum is derived from an incident at Auburn University in Alabama. At a Halloween party, white fraternity members took photos of themselves smeared with black face paint and black fraternity clothing. Some pictures showed the students with nooses around their necks.

MLK Unity Week will close on Saturday with the annual Unity Pageant, a scholarship beauty contest. The pageant will begin at 8 p.m. in Pruis Hall; admission is $2 in advance and $3 at the door.

Virgil encourages all students to support the week's events and take time to remember King's legacy.

"As we celebrate his accomplishments and what he stood for, we are not just celebrating him, but we're also discovering the power of the individual to create lasting change in society," he said. "We can easily take for granted seeing the different cultures. There was a time when (African-Americans) could not be here at all, so we have come a long way."

CREATING A DREAM

It took more than three years for Student Senate to realize its own dream.

On Feb. 4, 1998, the Student Senate, under student president Jeremy Gray, passed SR8 8-98. The legislation, the DAILY NEWS reported, recommended the university not schedule classes in honor of MLK Day.

It received one paragraph of coverage in the paper.

The legislation never made it beyond Student Government Association, but it was not forgotten. On Feb. 7, 2001, the Student Senate, with Cory Calvin as president, once again approved legislation that recommended the university not schedule classes.

In the next day's paper, it received little more than a paragraph of coverage.

This time, however, the bill passed in an atmosphere more conducive to its success, said Tolu Olowomeye, the vice president of SGA.

According to Olowomeye, the then-new Brownell administration had considered changing Ball State's policy.

"Instead of beginning from the bottom up, the idea started from the top because President (Blaine) Brownell saw a need for it," she said.

Brownell discussed the matter with his senior staff and decided to look further into the idea. Anthony Head, then SGA vice president, said the news came to him and Calvin. The Senate's legislation was revised by current SGA president Tommy Rector, who was then parliamentarian.

According to Head, the legislation was postponed because SGA needed to make sure they had the support of other campus organizations.

"We had one good shot," Head said. "We wanted to present a very thorough and well-researched piece of legislation to the University Senate because we wanted its support as well as (that of) faculty and students."

The students received the support they craved. University Senate passed the legislation unanimously. Soon afterward, the administration made it official.

Junior Jarrod Dortch, vice president of the Black Student Association, said it was a decision that was long overdue.

"It was a good political move for the university," he said. "It wouldn't be a good thing for them to be about diversity and not have MLK Day off."

It took 10 months, though, of discussion, revising, re-research and persuasion. According to Olowomeye, several senators were in opposition of the legislation.

"Some felt we didn't need to subtract another day off the school year, and others felt the best way to celebrate was to go to class," she said. "They were also unsure of whether the university would be closed or not in session for students."

SGA president pro tempore Richard McClelland said financial issues and figuring out how to make up for the day missed also had to be taken into consideration.

"The main focus from University Senate was we'd be missing a day of classes because we were under the impression we had to make up that day," he said. "We then did the research and found that there was no set number to maintain."

Head admits he was originally in opposition of the legislation.

"I felt the students wouldn't recognize it or the importance of it," he said. "But when I learned what other universities were doing to celebrate (King's) legacy with programs, community service and activities, I thought it would be feasible for Ball State to do."

Olowomeye said the presence of the student body, particularly BSA, greatly impacted the vote, but most of the credit, she said, belonged to Brownell.

"He saw it as an injustice to MLK's legacy and those who choose to observe it," she said.


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