January 12, 2012
When Emory's King Week, the annual campus celebration of the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., kicked off more than a quarter-century ago, organizers had difficulty scheduling even one event per day.
This year's King Week, from Jan. 15-24, stretches nearly two weeks and is packed with panel discussions, readings, concerts, exhibits, worship services and volunteer projects.
"We hate to turn anything down," explains Cynthia Shaw, longtime chair of the Martin Luther King Holiday Observance Committee and a behind-the-scenes driving force. "We'll make room."
On Wednesday, Jan. 18, there are five events on tap, including a keynote speech on "King's Legacy and the New Civil Rights Frontiers," by Tulane political science professor Melissa Harris-Perry, also a contributor to MSNBC and a columnist for The Nation.
New this year is a Jan. 19 panel discussion linking civil rights to service learning, sponsored by Volunteer Emory. Earlier that day, the Rollins School of Public Health and Goizueta Business School will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Community Service Awards, honoring as many as 10 Atlanta-area organizations for their dedication.
Along with its annual "Women Talking with Women" forum reflecting on race, ethnicity and culture, the Center for Women will hold a second discussion, "Women in the Civil Rights Movement," on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Activists and academics will reflect on women's involvement in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights organizations.
Until Tuesday, Jan. 31, the main gallery at the DUC will feature an exhibit, "Religious Life: Our Journeys into Community," consisting of Shaw's photographs from previous Emory Journeys Programs in the Middle East, Cuba, South Africa and northern Ireland. Shaw coordinates the inter-religious immersion program for the Office of the Dean of the Chapel and Religious Life.
King Week also includes entrenched favorites, such as an African drum circle, a Jazz Vesper Service, a birthday cake bash and an Ecumenical Celebration at Oxford College.
On the MLK holiday Jan. 16, hundreds of volunteers from across campus planted trees, painted arts facilities and sorted medical supplies for overseas clinics as part of Emory's Day On.
King's far-reaching interests included music, theater and art, notes Shaw. "He was more than just a preacher and civil rights activist."
Emory is one of the only universities in the nation to organize such an extensive tribute, she adds. Shaw credits King Week's success to the sustained involvement of campus departments.
A memorable ride home
A former member of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Shaw recalled a brief personal encounter in the early 1980's with the Rev. Martin Luther King Sr., fondly known as "Daddy King."
It was a typical sweltering day in Atlanta and the elder King needed a ride home from church. Shaw offered to take him, but immediately apologized for the lack of air conditioning in her car.
King replied: "Do the windows go up and down? That's all the air conditioning I need."
King proceeded to sign a flurry of autographs while Shaw was "dripping with sweat." On the ride home, his face lit up as he described his late wife Alberta, who was murdered in 1974 while sitting at the church organ. By that time, King had already lost two sons.
"He was free from any kind of resentment or sadness," remembers Shaw. "You could tell their family was a wonderful family."
"I say a prayer every year to make Emory's King Week celebration worthy of King's legacy," she continues. "And every year it turns out to be just wonderful."
For a full schedule of events, see the King Week calendar at www.emory.edu/MLK.