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Michiana Celebrates MLK Day With Several Events

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Stephanie Mirza
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Martin Luther King Day breakfast at the Century Center

As organizations, colleges and churches celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr day this week — community members reflect on his legacy and what it means today.

The city of South Bend is holding many events to commemorate the life of MLK Jr. The annual breakfast had 900 people in attendance at the Century Center.

The History Museum is introducing its first African-American legacy award. Nominations will begin today and close March 31. The winner of the award will be honored on June 13, 2023.

The museum's Marketing Director, Marilyn Thompson said she is thrilled to be introducing this award.

“We want to begin honoring those who continue that work today to be able to research and educate and disseminate that African American history to our community,” Thompson said.

The city is also holding its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Celebration. This event is organized by MLK Foundation of St. Joseph County, Project Impact, South Bend Heritage and Civil Rights Heritage Center at Indiana University South Bend.

This is a day-long event, with activities for all ages.

James Summers works with Project Impact and volunteered in coordinating the breakfast. While this is the 37th year that South Bend will hold this celebration, Summer said people still are unaware of the event.

Summers said people still need reminding of the history, even nearly 60 years after King’s I Have A Dream speech.

“We still have not accomplished the dream. It's important because after all, this time, at least, we still continue to try," Summers said.

South Bend and Notre Dame have a direct history with Martin Luther King Jr. Father Theodore Hesburgh was President of Notre Dame from 1953-1987 and was considered a champion of Civil Rights.

On July 21, 1964, Hesburgh gave an impromptu speech at a civil rights rally in Chicago. At the end of the speech, he joined hands with Dr. King and sang ‘We Shall Overcome.'

South Bend has a complicated and diverse African-American history. The racist practices of redlining and gerrymandering still have an effect on the city.

The Indiana University South Bend Civil Rights Heritage Center is in a building that was once one of the most segregated places in the city.

The Indiana University - South Bend takes the day off, as MLK Jr day is a federal holiday.

The Assistant Director and Curator of IUSB’s Cultural Heritage Center - George Garner said,

“Giving employees that time to take the day away from work, hopefully, they'll take the day to do something else,” he said. “That means pick up a book, listen to a podcast, read something, go to any and importantly go to any one of the dozens of events that are happening in the community.”

Garner said that while King had a national presence, there were thousands of people like him working in communities across the country.

In Benton Harbor, Michigan, Lake Michigan College is hosting events today, Monday Jan. 16th through Saturday the 21st. This is the first year that events have been held completely in-person since the start of the pandemic.

Director of LMC’s start to finish program, Charmae Sanders said the week means more when people can be in person.

“I think when you're in person face to face with everyone, it inspires you.” Sanders said. “You look around the room, you see people coming from all different backgrounds all together for the same purpose.”

There are also several new service events this year. Dean of LMC’s Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Cam Hearth said the new service opportunities reflect one of Dr. King’s Speeches.

In Dr. King's speech, he said “If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

“We want to definitely continue to move from what we did in previous years, we want to add something new to the programming of celebrating diversity, “ Hearth said.

Rachel Schnelle is a Reporter/Assignment editor for WVPE. She can be reached at reschnelle@wvpe.org.