On Jan. 17, Virginia Wesleyan University celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.
Day with acts of service on campus and a commemoration event hosted by President Scott Miller. The event featured guest speaker Dr. Veleka Gatling and Mavis McKenley who presented the Mavis McKenley Award to senior Erin Highsmith for embodying the ideals of Dr. King.
The event commemorated Dr. King’s legacy and accomplishments alongside
students who live up to his name by fighting for racial unity and community.
Keynote speaker Dr. Veleka Gatling, who is the director for diversity initiatives at Old Dominion University, said, “I’m constantly reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s ‘the ultimate measure of a man or a woman is not where he or she stands in moments
of convenience and comfort, but where he or she stands in times of challenge and controversy.’ I am sure that all of us would agree that we have faced numerous times of challenge and controversy in the past twenty months, especially as it relates to promoting and ensuring equity.”
Dr. Gatling is helping the battle for unity across all communities and has also faced challenges and difficulties, especially during the last 20 months.
She said that “to achieve visible equity, we must humanize the members of our communities of practice in ways that acceptance and respect become the norm not just a cliche, then we must demonstrate respect by seeking to understand others and treating them as they desire, not as we desire.”
She will continue to tell the listeners that in order for a community to be united, everyone must stand together, listen to each other and acknowledge each other’s history and story.
Gatling finished her speech by saying, “As my 94-year-old dad says, ‘everything has changed, yet nothing has changed,’ but we can still deal with our challenging times and controversy.”
Annually on MLK Jr. Day, a student is presented with an award in honor of Mavis McKenley, who graduated from VWU in 2011. The student is chosen for exemplifying the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr., “including courage and conviction in valuing differences, commitment to seeing beyond borders, by building inclusion, compassion for humanity and commitment to social change,” McKenley said.
This year’s recipient was Erin Highsmith, a senior at VWU. When asked how
she earned the McKenley Award, Highsmith said her best friend, India Khana, who won last year’s award, inspired her to work hard and help out through community service, assisting at voter registration drives, helping the veteran amputee softball team and participating in the President’s Council for Inclusive Communities. Jokingly, Highsmith said “Anything she
did last year, I was going to do this year. She’s not just my best friend, she’s my role model.”
When asked why MLK Jr. Day is important to not just her but for everyone, Highsmith said, “I think it’s important for me because it’s a staple of African American History. I think that’s a history that gets overlooked a lot. Especially when it comes to the civil rights movement. Even though it’s a holiday that mostly embodies King himself, it’s important because I feel like
today we’re actively working to try to keep it from being erased while other people are trying to sweep it under the rug a little bit because it isn’t necessarily the best part of American history. But, if you forget where
you came from, you’re just bound to repeat yourself.”
VWU also hosted the MLK Jr. Day of Service where students could participate to help with a campus and community cleanup. Freshman Joshua Spicer, who went to the clean-up event, said, “The event was
honestly a lot of fun. A few members of my Tennis team and some other people went out into the woods behind V3 to go pick up trash and generally clean up the area. We all had a lot of fun doing it and could definitely see the impact that we had.”
When asked why he volunteered, Spicer said he wanted to help clean up with his teammates while making campus cleaner and nicer for everyone who goes to VWU.
“Dr. King taught us that service to our community can break barriers and bring everyone together,” Spicer said. “Being able to emulate that and clean up our own community is very important. Coming together with many different students to accomplish that is even better.”
By Joseph Cooper