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Sunday June 4th

UNC prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day

<p>Kelly Whitaker receives an Unsung Hero Award in the Carolina Union on Feb. 22, 2022, during the MLK Lecture and Awards Ceremony.</p>
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Kelly Whitaker receives an Unsung Hero Award in the Carolina Union on Feb. 22, 2022, during the MLK Lecture and Awards Ceremony.

The annual UNC Week of Celebration kicks off next Sunday. It will include four events orchestrated by students and faculty that highlight the efforts of Martin Luther King Jr. in championing racial justice.             

Patricia "Trish" Harris, senior director of education, operations and initiatives at the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is the committee chairperson leading the collection of student organizations involved in the events.         

“We actually have the longest-standing MLK celebration by a university in the nation. We're now in our forty-second year,” she said.  

The Carolina Union Activities Board, Black Student Movement, Campus Y, Student Life and Leadership and other campus organizations have started planning and working collaboratively for the upcoming MLK events since last August. This year's theme is "Finding Our Way Forward."

Claude A. Clegg III, who works in both the Department of History and the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies, discussed the importance of serving the greater good within King's legacy.

"It's really important to recognize not only the contributions of a single person, but to contributions for that generation of people who are at risk quite a lot to push the country towards a greater realization of his democratic promise,” he said.                                             

The week begins with the 38th annual MLK Jr. Memorial Banquet at the Friday Center on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 6:00 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $40 online or through a committee member. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Leah Cox, the vice provost for Equity & Inclusion and chief diversity officer for UNC.                                                        

Scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 will be presented to high schooler students in Orange County and all proceeds will go to raising scholarship funds for local students.                                     

“The MLK Jr. University Community Planning Corporation became an official nonprofit in 1993 and has given close to 300 scholarships over the past several years to local high school students,” Harris said.   

The second event will be the MLK Jr. Day of Service at the Mardi Gras Bowling Center at 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 16, the federal MLK Jr. holiday. "Strike Against Hunger" offers the first 20 participants to bring four canned goods free entry, a t-shirt and one hour of free bowling (including shoes).         

“Carolina values of the University, the mission of the University overlap very well, with the values that were articulated by King and others and regard to equality,” Clegg said.                            

The third and largest event of the week is the Lecture and Awards Ceremony in the Moser Auditorium in Hill Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6:00 p.m. The keynote speaker is Ben Crump, a renowned civil rights attorney, and he will host a moderated Q&A at the event.    

Scholarships and awards like the MLK Scholarship Endowment, the Harvey E. Beech Award and the Unsung Hero Award will be presented to UNC students and faculty. There will also be performances from the new Poet Laureate of Chapel Hill. 

“We've been giving out [the MLK Scholarship Endowment] for 40 years. And the amount varies each year. But we try to get up to $1,500 for two to three student juniors,” Harris said. 

UNC junior Jerome Roy is a member of the Student Planning Committee and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, which MLK Jr. joined while enrolled at Boston University. Roy assists in orchestrating the ceremony, deciding recipients and presenting awards.                

“To honor (Harvey Beech), it's an award that is centered around students excelling in and helping the community, and also the UNC community as a whole,” he said. “We also look for minority candidates because he was one of the first Black students to be enrolled here.”                            

The last event, the Unity Café, will be on Sunday, Jan. 22, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Carolina Union Auditorium. Acapella, singing and poetry organizations are set to perform.     

“One of the events we will be performing is at the Unity Cafe on Sunday,” Roy said. “It’s a mix of different cultures and different people coming to perform in a show of unity.”


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