January 19, 2014

Cornell to Celebrate Martin Luther King Day for First Time in Its History

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Starting this year, Cornell will join the nation in remembering Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of “activism and social justice” by making MLK Day a paid University holiday.

The University’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day will include a series of diversity-themed workshops, meals, concerts and films, according to Prof. Riche Richardson, Africana studies. Additionally, University faculty and staff will receive the day off of work.

Thaddeus Talbot ’15, minority liaison at-large for the Student Assembly, said he hopes the community will take time to celebrate King’s accomplishments and “philosophy of equality and love.”

“Take friends, coworkers, or family to any one of the community events,” he said.

Prof. Travis Gosa, Africana studies, said the holiday is an “important step” for Cornell in demonstrating its commitment to diversity.

“I am pleased that Cornell has designated Dr. Martin Luther King Day as an official University-recognized holiday, and I know that staff will appreciate the opportunity to join the rest of Ithaca in a serious day of reflection, community service and activism,” he said.

Gosa also said he hopes Cornellians will use the day to reflect upon how King’s dedication to fighting against poverty and racism can be applied to the Ithaca community.

“It is my hope that Cornellians will use the day to think about how our institution might help families in the wider Ithaca and Tompkins county area deal with joblessness and food security,” he said.

Prof. N’Dri Assie-Lumumba, Africana studies, said the day is also important in the context of the University’s stated commitment to inclusiveness and acceptance of diversity.

“It is important to stop and think what Dr. King’s dream was about and how we can actualize it to move toward the achievement of the ultimate goal,” she said.

She added that it is important for Cornell to acknowledge the holiday in order to demonstrate gratitude for what Dr. King has achieved and sacrificed.

“The ultimate goal is social transformation: It is not to achieve something at one point in history and then forget it,” she said. “The celebration should be an opportunity to renew individual and collective commitment … to an inclusive society.”

The holiday is a result of a series of calendar revisions approved by Provost Kent Fuchs that are taking place this year.

Richardson said the “day is for everybody” and “is a great day for the University.”

“The celebration at Cornell of Dr. King’s birthday has reached an important and inspiring milestone,” she said. “The national celebration reflects the … movement that underscored the impact of Dr. King’s legacy in civil rights activism.”

In a commemorative email, President David Skorton said he is “delighted” the University is “honoring one of the great figures in modern American history.”