UVA Wise celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at 26th Remembrance event and Peace Week

Martin Luther King Jr. at podium with microphones
Courtesy: Library of Congress

The 26th annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance Program sponsored by the University of Virginia’s College at Wise returns in person this year celebrating the theme, “Coming Home…Rejoining the Ranks.”

The Remembrance program, presented by the College’s Black History Month Committee, celebrates the legacy of civil rights icon Dr. King.

His birthday was Jan. 15. In 1983, the U.S. government designated the third Monday of January as a federal holiday.

This year, on Monday, Jan. 17, the Remembrance program and its long-standing candlelight march, which was cancelled last year due to Covid-19 restrictions, will be in person. However, due to safety concerns for the community concerning Covid-19, the annual dinner has been cancelled this year.

“Our theme, ‘Coming Home….Rejoining the Ranks’ is a reminder from King’s 1958 Montgomery speech that despite adversity we cannot forget our fight for equality and justice. Despite the challenges we face today, we are happy to come back together to celebrate King’s legacy at our Remembrance program this year,” said Debbie Vanover, Chair of the College’s Black History Month Committee.

Regardless of the weather, the candlelight march will commence at 6:30 p.m. outside Wise Baptist Church and continue through downtown Wise towards the Church of God, where the Remembrance program starts at 7 p.m. Those planning on participating in the march should be ready by 6:25 p.m. For the safety of all attending these events, face coverings are required for attendance.

The program features a host of speakers and musical guests including Elder Carolyn Smith, pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Appalachia, Va., and this year’s keynote speaker. Smith, the church’s first woman to pastor, has served there for more than 20 years.

Other noteworthy speakers and presenters include Town of Wise Mayor Teresa Adkins, UVA Wise Chancellor Donna P. Henry and UVA Wise Director of Alumni Engagement Corey Sanders.

Reverend Justin Preston will recite Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “I Have a Dream.” The Macedonia Baptist Church choir, Praise UP, accompanist Peter Ryan, assistant professor of music at the College, and musical groups, The Wise Guys and The Fatty Livers, will perform.

“Starting the Spring semester remembering Dr. King who believed in attaining justice peacefully is a huge way to set the tone for the values of the College,” said Tabitha Smith, associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. “This will be the 26th annual Remembrance program and I think witnessing how the College has expanded that mission, not just around race but also civil rights, is important.”

One of the ways that vision expanded is the creation of the College’s first Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion last year, Smith said.

“No matter your background—your socio-economic status, your ethnicity, your gender—we can be inclusive and participate in civil engagement. It’s having those conversations, knowing it’s okay to disagree. The way you advance as a society is learning beyond the things you know,” Smith said. “We can all learn from Dr. King and appreciate doing those things peacefully. This sets the tone that we are all welcome and even though we are not all alike we can figure it out humanely.”

These events kick off the College’s third annual Peace Week, which features a series of events focusing on the life, work and legacy of the civil rights leader and non-violence advocate through Friday, Jan. 21. 

“The centerpiece of January is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. His message resonates in a number of ways, so the purpose of Peace Week is to echo how individuals on our campus can find their own inner peace and use it for the greater energy of our community as a whole,” said Molly A. Land, associate director of compliance & inclusion at UVA Wise.

During Peace Week, each day there will be on-campus activities for students including the always popular “Tie-dye bagels” shipped in from New York City. During those events, UVA Wise will also distribute copies of King’s book, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community.”

Both Monday night’s Remembrance program activities and Friday’s lecture on Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson and the Vietnam War are open and free to the public as part of the series.

That lecture, co-sponsored by UVA Wise History and Philosophy Department, will be held at 1 p.m. in the College’s Chapel of All Faiths and via Zoom.

UVA Wise students who attend the march or attend the lecture may receive cultural credit.

UVA Wise Coordinator of Diversity Initiatives Karina Rufino said these events are important reminders of King’s work to “speak out for the voiceless” and on behalf of those who need justice.

As King said in his Riverside Church speech, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence,” “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation and for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”