BYU Multicultural Student Services held a Martin Luther King Candlelight Vigil and Commemoration Program on campus Jan. 18.
The event began at the south end of the Marriott Center, where all participants met inside the Marriott Tunnel to receive and light individual candles. Led by BYU’s ROTC, the walk of life began. Singing, clapping, and gospel praising filled the night air as the group marched from the Marriott Tunnel to the WSC Ballroom.
Victor Mendoza, the assistant cultural programs director for BYU’s Multicultural Student Services, said there is a special reverence he feels at the event each year.
“Every year it’s just really great to start the walk and the procession. You look around and you see everybody with their lit candles and you just feel the unity,” Mendoza said. “No one pays attention to differences that we have. It’s great that we’re all together for one cause, to pay tribute to MLK and everything he stood for.”
Students then filled the ballroom where BYU ROTC Cadets posted the colors. The audience stood and joined together in reciting the pledge of allegiance. BYU’s Gospel Choir helped the crowd to their feet again as they performed to start the program.
BYU history professor Leslie Hadfield then presented the top three awards for the Africana Studies MLK essay contest. Melanie Jackson, grand prize winner, shared her essay on the LDS church’s decision to lose racial restrictions and what that means today.
“To Nephi I was not ‘fair and delightsome’,” Jackson said. “To you I am colorless. A child of God.”
She spoke of the importance of education, a priority that has been passed down through her family.
“We must go to school. We must learn of our history. We must remember, if we are to labor in the fields, white already to harvest,” Jackson said.
BYU History Professor Cameron McCoy gave his keynote address following Jackson’s remarks. He focused on the symbolism of Martin Luther King and modern examples of those standing for justice, such as the widely-known football player Colin Kaepernick. McCoy also stressed the importance of learning and remembering history.
“Stop saying, ‘I’m good, I don’t need to concern myself with injustice. It’s never going to happen to me’,” McCoy said. “I challenge you to hasten social justice. Matter of fact, I dare you.”
McCoy began his speech warning the audience he would be bold with his words, and gave many call to action statements, putting emphasis on the individual responsibility of social justice. Following McCoy the crowd stood and sang the Black National Anthem to close the annual commemoration.
Mendoza said he hopes for a longer term effect from the event.
“I hope. . . the feeling and the edification, everything learned through this event can carry,” Mendoza said. “It’s really nice to come together and remember MLK, all that he stood for and taught.”
Mendoza said it would be unfortunate for participants to only remember Martin Luther King’s principles for one night. His said his goal is for participants to truly believe in, and act on the principles honored in Martin Luther King through the remainder of the year.
BYU’s Multicultural Student Services is hosting events all February long in celebration of Black History Month. Follow their Facebook page to stay updated on what is happening next.