Wooster’s expanded MLK Day commemoration invites community to reflect on “The Fierce Urgency of Now”

Martin Luther King Jr.

The College of Wooster will celebrate civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and the impact he and other civil rights activists had on the United States during its annual celebration Jan. 16 through 20. Expanding the College’s past event to a five-day commemorative celebration, this year’s event invites students, faculty, staff, and community members to join together and reflect on the theme of “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” The expanded celebration throughout the week includes two keynote presentations and three Justice Dialogues, one featuring Wooster alumnus and National Teacher of the Year, Kurt Russell ’94.

The celebration will commence with a virtual video kickoff on Monday, Jan. 16 at noon. Later, the NAACP MLK Day Celebration Dinner will be at First Presbyterian Church (621 College Avenue) at 5 p.m., followed at 7 p.m.by a service led by one of the celebration’s two keynote speakers, Rev. Gwendolyn Webb.

Webb is pastor at God’s People United for a Better World Church and a native of Birmingham, Alabama.  She graduated from the Birmingham Police Academy as the second black female officer and served many years obtaining the rank of detective. Her civic affiliations include being an original Foot Soldier for Civil Rights that earned her the prestigious “I Have a Dream” Award, The Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award, Civil Rights Legends 2011 Black Achievers Regions Financial Corporation, and other numerous awards and positions. She is the founder and CEO of Foot Soldiers International and Sisters Informing Sisters.

Wooster’s MLK celebration will also include three Justice Dialogues held in the Gault Recital Hall of Scheide Music Center (525 E. University Street) from 11 a.m. to noon, on Jan. 17, 18, and 19. On Tuesday, Jan. 17, Beyond the Chaos” will be hosted by Webb. Wednesday, Jan. 18, Michael Miyawaki, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, will discuss the topic “Anger into Action.” Miyawaki’s research focuses on race and ethnicity, particularly in the areas of identity formation, classification systems, and inequality, and as they pertain to Latinos and the multiracial population. The final of the three dialogues, “Sustaining a Commitment to Justice—A Conversation with 2022 National Teacher of the Year, Kurt Russell ’94” will be moderated by Ryan Ozar, visiting assistant professor of education, on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Kurt Russell ’94 was named the National Teacher of the Year in April 2022 and traveled to Washington, D.C. to receive the award at the White House and meet President Biden and Dr. Biden. He returned to Washington to speak to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in June and for the State Dinner with French President Emmanuel Macron in December. First inspired to become a teacher in middle school, when he encountered his first Black male teacher, in his role as National Teacher of the Year he is advocating for classrooms to better reflect the students within them—from a curriculum that reflects their backgrounds and identities to a more diverse teaching profession. After completing a degree in history and minor in Black studies from Wooster, he earned his Master of Education degree in curriculum and instruction from Ashland University. Before the award cycle Russell taught multiple courses at Oberlin High School, including African American history, U.S. history, International Baccalaureate history of the Americas, and a course on race, gender, and oppression. He’s also an advisor for the Black Student Union, student council and junior class, and has coached boys basketball since 1996.

The 2022 commemorative celebration in honor of MLK day at Wooster concludes on Friday, Jan. 20, with a final keynote address from educator and executive coach Patrice Buckner Jackson at McGaw Chapel (340 E. University Street) from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Jackson—known to her followers as “Dr. PBJ”—holds a doctoral degree in education administration, served in executive leadership at multiple colleges and universities, and facilitates leadership training as a faculty member for the Center for Creative Leadership, an nonprofit provider of leadership development. Jackson founded EduCare Training and Consulting LLC out of a purpose pouring into those who pour out so much. Much of her work is specifically focused on equipping and refreshing educators. Jackson notes that “Compassionate work can carry a high price tag: your mind, body, spirit, and relationships may be in distress as you serve the needs of others.” She leads her community to serve well without paying an ultimate price. Currently, Jackson serves as creator and host of the Disrupting Burnout podcast and is the founder and facilitator of the EduCare Women’s Leadership Academy.

MLK-art-wallAll events throughout the week are open to the greater Wooster community. A prayer breakfast will be held at Westminster Church House (353 E. Pine Street) of Friday, Jan. 20, from 8 to 9:30 a.m. A Community Engagement Fair encouraging students to engage with local and student originations that serve the community will be open from 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon in The Alley, on the lower level of Lowry Center (1189 Beall Avenue). An “Art Wall” displayed in Lowry Center will feature art from Wooster City School students. This years’ service project also includes writing to local and state government leaders. Custom postcards are available at any of the Justice Dialogues or the Information Desk in Lowry Center.

Wooster’s annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration allows the campus community to engage in meaningful exploration and dialogue about issues that connect with King’s work and vision on matters relating to civil rights and social justice, activism, responsibility, and engagement. For more information and a complete schedule of events, click here.

Posted in News on January 4, 2023.