Honoring MLK's memory with renewed calls for action
Elon University students, faculty and staff took part in a Monday march through downtown Burlington that commemorated the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while raising awareness of work still to be done in advancing civil liberties.
With chants, hymns and posters that quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elon University students joined dozens of other residents of Alamance County on Monday in a march through Burlington to remember the slain activist who would have turned 87 this month had he not been assassinated at the height of the Civil Rights Movement.
The march on Jan. 18, 2016, also raised awareness of recently passed laws and policies that organizers described as anathema to the social justice gains for which King died. They pointed to voter identification laws, immigration practices, and North Carolina lawmakers declining to expand Medicaid programs as examples of their concerns.
It was the first time that Elon University joined with the Alamance Branch of the NAACP to remember King on the federal holiday in his name. In prior years, students, faculty and staff gathered on campus for remembrance events.
Barrett Brown, president of the Alamance NAACP, had suggested to university administrators earlier in January that students take part in the downtown Burlington march as a way of forging new partnerships between campus activists and those doing similar work in the region.
That invitation was warmly received, and plans to host this year's campus march were tabled.
“We thought this was more important, to have students come out and interact with community members,” said Jamie Butler, assistant director for Elon's Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education. “As soon as we said this was what we wanted to do, students were all for it.”
Nearly two dozen students took part in the march, including Mariatu Okonofua, a freshman from Memphis with plans to double major in English and political science.
Okonofua had participated in similar programs in her hometown, where King was felled on April 4, 1968. She said that King’s activism paved the way for her own parents to move to the United States from Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
“These help me remember the past,” Okonofua said of marches. “My family didn’t come here until the 1980s. If it wasn’t for Dr. King, they might not have been able to immigrate. I wouldn’t be here now.”
Senior Alexandré B. Bohannon, president of Elon's Black Student Union, said bringing students into Burlington offered another view of the local community that can be lost by remaining on campus. It also affords an opportunity to build coalitions with other like-minded people.
Perhaps most importantly, he said, taking part in the march was a reminder that King’s vision of equality and social justice is not yet fulfilled.
“Even though we know we’ve made progress,” Bohannon said, “there’s still a long way to go.”