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Infinite hope: MU, community event celebrates MLK’s life and legacy

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, Andrew Young, a former U.S. ambassador and confidant of Martin Luther King Jr., will help Mizzou virtually celebrate King’s vision.

Jan. 20, 2021
Contact: Kenny Gerling, gerlingk@missouri.edu

In a sermon later republished in his 1963 book, Strength to Love, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

When the University of Missouri’s Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative committee — composed of students, faculty and staff — gathered to organize the annual MLK Day of Celebration, King’s words seemed a natural choice for the year’s theme.

On Jan. 26, Mizzou will host “Infinite Hope: The Power and Possibilities of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Vision,” a daylong virtual celebration to honor King’s legacy and acknowledge the work happening across Mizzou and the Columbia community to make the world a better place for all.

Erika Aaron, faculty recruitment and engagement specialist in the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity and co-chair of the committee, said that in a tumultuous year, King’s call for infinite hope remains powerful.

“Martin Luther King spoke these words that echo across time,” Aaron said. “In the long run, we can make a change.”

A legacy of service

The celebration will feature keynote speaker Andrew Young, a close confidant of King, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, U.S. congressman from Georgia and mayor of Atlanta — among his many other accomplishments. Over a virtual lunchtime session, a small group of Mizzou students will have the opportunity to meet with Young and ask questions about his life and career. During an evening Zoom session that is open to all, Young will deliver a keynote address followed by a discussion during which audience members may submit questions.

Marshaun Love, a junior majoring in biological sciences with a minor in computational neurosciences and the lead student assistant for the College of Engineering’s Inclusivity Center, is a member of the planning committee and a moderator for both the student event and evening session. Love added that Young’s long career fighting for social justice can inform the work of contemporary changemakers. “With Ambassador Young, we figured we could have an older generation speak, and then the younger generation respond,” Love said.

Robin Clay, a manager of diversity and inclusion initiatives at the MU School of Medicine, a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis and a committee member, echoed that Young’s ability to relate the civil rights era to contemporary national concerns provides a bridge between generations. “Youth and students were the focus of who the planning committee wanted to reach,” Clay said. “Ambassador Young is a great example of a real person who is doing his part, and it’s important to say that you can do your part, too.”

Infinite hope

Along with Young’s keynote address, the evening session will feature student musical performances as well as a video of community members sharing what King’s message means to them. It will conclude with the presentation of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Award, which recognizes a Boone County group or individual who is fostering greater cultural and ethnic diversity locally.

Stephen Graves, assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Black Studies, said the celebration is an opportunity to create connections beyond the university’s campus.

“Black faculty, students and staff need to be invested in the City of Columbia and be their partners, particularly with the Black and African American constituencies within this city,” Graves said. “We’re all experiencing a lot of the same things, so having an avenue for which we can grease a better relationship between the two parties is very important.”

Terrell Morton, assistant professor of identity and justice in STEM education and co-chair of the committee, said that the day of celebration honors the multifaceted nature of both King as a figure and the legacy of the movement he led. “We cannot forget the struggles, strife, blood, sweat and pains that Dr. King and others put forth just to get us to get us where we are today,” Morton said. “That’s worth celebrating, even though there is so much more to go.”

Morton added that even when obstacles seem “insurmountable,” King’s message offers encouragement to persevere.

“Hope is a form of empowerment,” he said.

Those interested in attending the MLK Day of Celebration from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, can find more information as well as the link for the evening Zoom session on the Division of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity's website.

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