Lehigh Community Gathers to Honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s Work and Words

The mid-day event asked attendees to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.’s plea for nonviolence.

Story by

Linda Harbrecht

Photography by

Christa Neu

Photo showing all attendees seated at luncheon

Over 120 people attended Monday's MLK Day luncheon at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.

More than 120 members of the Lehigh community gathered on Monday to celebrate the life and legacy of slain civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to reflect on how his words can inspire present-day individual action. The luncheon, held at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Vine Street, focused on the theme of “Peace and Nonviolence in a Divisive World.” Organized by the university’s MLK Committee, the event was open to students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the local community.

Associate Professor of Psychology Christopher Burke, who also co-chairs the MLK Committee, guided group discussions that focused on King’s words. Attendees were encouraged to consider how they can act of agents of change and strive toward effective dialogue over confrontation. “It’s clear from Dr. King’s words,” he said, “that nonviolent resistance isn’t about just lovey-dovey words. It’s serious, hard work. As he said, ‘Nonviolence is an absolute commitment to the way of love…it’s not empty sentimentalism. It is the active outpouring of one’s whole being into the being of another.’ He saw nonviolence as the only way to move to a more peaceful future.”

Lehigh students writing on cards

Attendees at Lehigh's MLK event were encouraged to reflect on ways each of them could make a difference and work toward a more just world.

At the conclusion of the event, Jennifer Swann, professor of biological sciences and director of student success in the College of Arts and Sciences, said discussions in her group made note of the fact that much of what King accomplished was done at a very early age. “So my message to students is that you can be effective now, even at your age,” Swann said. “You can make a difference.”

In addition to asking attendees to consider individual actions they can take, Burke also reminded attendees of upcoming events organized by the MLK Committee, which focused on a yearlong theme of “From Reflection to Action: Where Do We Go From Here?” This year’s keynote address will be delivered in late March by Spelman College President Emerita Beverly Daniel Tatum, a clinical psychologist widely known as an expert in race relations and a thought leader in higher education. Free copies of Tatum’s book were made available to all attendees.

The MLK Committee is organizing reading circles based on Tatum’s influential book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” There will also be social justice panels focused on immigration and environmental justice over the course of the next semester. More more information can be found at https://www2.lehigh.edu/news/race-relations-expert-beverly-tatum-to-speak-at-lehigh.

Earlier this academic year, the MLK Committee hosted Ibram X. Kendi, who discussed his groundbreaking book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist,” and organized social justice panels on campus activism and community engagement.

Story by

Linda Harbrecht

Photography by

Christa Neu

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