Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day of remembrance, reflection, and action on cultivating a culture of equality throughout every community. Every year, Purdue University Northwest (PNW) celebrates the holiday by inviting the community in for breakfast, music, and an inspiring keynote speech. This year’s keynote speaker was Vanessa Allen-McCloud, PNW alumna and president and CEO of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, who spoke about the importance of respect, courage, and love.
Approximately 300 people were in attendance at the PNW Westville campus Monday for the first of two celebrations, including a number of Michigan City High School students and newly elected Michigan City mayor, Duane Parry. Another 200 people attended the second celebration on Tuesday at the PNW Hammond campus, including students from Hammond High School, East Chicago Central High School, and Thea Bowman Leadership Academy.
This year marked the 25th annual celebration at the Westville Campus. “From the beginning, the charge was that this MLK Day committee would represent a reciprocal partnership with representatives across all sectors in La Porte County,” said Dr. Karen Bishop Morris, associate professor of English at PNW, who served as emcee of both events. “Faith-based organizations, financial institutions, the healthcare industry, higher education, the La Porte County School system, La Porte County government, the local human rights division, the NAACP—all these are included.”
"We are very proud that Purdue Northwest, as a convener for residents of Northwest Indiana, is a place that people can go to engage in active conversations on the day that celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King's legacy,” said Kris Falzone, associate vice chancellor for Marketing and Communications at PNW.
Laura Odom, associate director of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Purdue Northwest and the co-chair for the programs honoring Dr. King, noted the importance of many regional organizations and companies that sponsored the events in bringing this programming to the public.
“It’s so important that we reflect on his legacy not only today but every day,” Odom said, “and come together to recognize what he stood for, which was equality for all and respect for one another regardless of our differences.”
Jená Bellezza, chairperson of the statewide Martin Luther King Jr. Indiana Holiday Commission, took to the podium excited to unite all of Indiana in celebration of King.
“Dr. King famously spoke about how darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that, and guess what? We are the light and the legacy,” Bellezza said. “His dream is alive in us and it’s up to us to build unity in our country, serve others with compassion, and strengthen our resolve that together we can realize Dr. King’s vision for all people to flourish.”
The wisdom of King’s practices and teachings are more prominent than ever in today’s society as we are once more in need of unity, Allen-McCloud said. She spoke to audience members in a way that engaged them and made them think while helping them realize the importance of helping someone no matter their race, gender, age or background.
“We have to learn how to treat people as though they are our family, and first we must decide to be open, listen, and be respectful,” Allen-McCloud said. “We must decide and plan to communicate and have courageous conversations about what really happened and what needs to happen.”
“We need to speak up and stand up for what is right—we can’t be quiet anymore, we need to stand up for those who have limited abilities,” Allen-McCloud continued. “We must acknowledge and respect and go the extra mile to support our veterans. We must be willing to look at ourselves first, in the mirror, and say, ‘what can I do differently today to help somebody?’ That’s what Dr. King was doing.”
For more information on community events and more at Purdue University Northwest, visit www.pnw.edu.