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The Daily Tar Heel

Q&A with MLK Keynote student coordinator Jay Peterkin

During the week of Jan. 15, UNC will honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with several events and activities. Staff writer Anish Bhatia spoke with Jay Peterkin, the student coordinator overseeing the MLK Keynote Lecture and Ceremony, to be held Tuesday night.

The Daily Tar Heel: Tell me a little about the University’s history of celebrating MLK Day. Why is the keynote speech particularly important to the celebration?

Jay Peterkin: UNC’s MLK Jr. Celebration is part of a campus-wide initiative to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his ideals and his legacy. Carolina began its celebrations of Dr. King’s life and legacy in 1983, long before there was even a federal holiday, and UNC is the only university ever to be awarded the “Making of the King Holiday Award” by the former MLK Federal Holiday Commission. Just like Dr. King did famously on many occasions, this lecture is an important method for inspiring attendees to be active social change-agents. This lecture’s purpose is to highlight the progress that we as a nation have made on the path to a more equitable world, while not ignoring the fallacies we have yet to address.

DTH: How did Soledad O’Brien (and the speakers in general) get involved with the MLK Day events and what will be discussed? How do speakers like him uphold the legacy of MLK?

JP: The MLK Lecture is planned by a conglomeration of student leaders who sit on the MLK Planning committee. Examples include the BSM, CHispA, CIC and IFC presidents, etc. along with myself. These students are the ones responsible for selecting the speaker and helping fund this event. Soledad O’Brien was the favorite from this year and she was willing to come. We cannot yet confirm the topic of her speech; however, speakers in the past have talked about a range of issues from student activism to the importance of representation in the media. Each of these topics at their very core aims at inspiring everyone to take charge and recognize their role in making the world a better place.

DTH: Why should students, community members and faculty attend the lecture?

JP: In general, Soledad O’Brien is a renowned journalist and author, who has served in a number of very public spaces, including CNN. This is a rare opportunity to hear from one of the national thought leaders in social justice and media and to learn from her experiences. In addition, this speech will be tailored specifically for our UNC community, meaning that our community can expect to learn about tangible ways to become active in our local community in whatever capacity.

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