React Week Provides Reflection, Response to MLK’s Life and Teaching
For the third consecutive year, Grace College students commemorated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through React Week. From Jan. 21 – 23, Grace students engaged in a variety of events and experiences to reflect and respond to the purpose of Dr. King’s life and teaching. These included a luncheon with special guest Chris Singleton, The Kindness Initiative, Q Union, Art & Justice, and a viewing and discussion of Dr. King’s speech, “The Other America.”
To start the week, though temperatures barely reached the single digits, community members, Grace faculty, staff, and students braved the harsh conditions to attend the 31st Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Luncheon in the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. The Committee to Commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Inc., Warsaw Community Schools and Grace College partner to host this annual event. This year, professional baseball player and inspirational speaker Chris Singleton gave the keynote address.
Singleton, a professional baseball player in the Chicago Cubs organization, became an inspirational speaker after his mother, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, was fatally shot and killed. Coleman Singleton was among the nine victims of a racially motivated shooting at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
Singleton shared experiences from both that time and the years following, focusing on a single message that he credits God with giving him less than 24 hours after his mother was killed: “Love is stronger than hate.” Singleton added that it is “up to each and every one of us – not the people up top – to unite our cities,” and that unity is only possible “when we teach our peers and youth to love based on character – not skin color.”
Immediately following the luncheon, students had the opportunity to practice love at The Kindness Initiative, an event sponsored by Serve, a student-led ministry that provides Grace students opportunities to use their passions and talents to serve others. Students packed 200 bags with toys, candy, and cereal for the Baker Youth Club – a local non-profit that serves the community through after-school care and summer programs.
“React Week is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., who promoted love and kindness toward all people. This event gives our students a chance to honor Dr. King by showing kindness to people all around them here in Winona Lake and Warsaw,” said Madi Brill, Serve coordinator of The Kindness Initiative.
“Dr. King is customarily celebrated for his kindness to others,” said Kearstin Criswell, director of student involvement at Grace. “But his kindness was radical. He loved others – including his enemies – very well as he worked to end oppression and realize equality for all people.”
The final event on Monday was Q Union, sponsored by the Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) in partnership with Q, an organization creating spaces for Christians to face the hard questions of today’s culture. Q Union had five speakers, including three recorded simulcasts from the national Q Union in October, and two students from Grace College. The simulcast presenters included Bob Goff, author of “Love Does” and “Everybody Always,” as well as author and speaker Jo Saxton, and CEO and founder of Charity: water, Scott Harrison. Grace student presenters were seniors Dyneshia Smith, student chaplain, and Brittani Boyd, editor of Inkspot magazine.
This year’s Q Union theme was “the power of We,” and each speaker spoke on the necessity of unity to drive change. Smith shared some of her own story, coming to Grace after being raised in a non-Christian home and the challenges of feeling like she needed to “catch up” with her peers in knowledge of the Bible and Christian tradition. She challenged students to show compassion to others who do not share their background. She also encouraged the audience to remember that even events that may seem like obligations, e.g., chapel and classes, are truly privileges, as many people do not have the opportunity to participate in them.
Boyd spoke about “the adverse asset” that technology – specifically, cell phones and social media – has on our society. She clarified that she is fully a millennial, having created a MySpace account at the age of 10 and obtaining her first cell phone by 11. She pointed out that while social media and cell phones were created to connect people, they often drive isolation and anxiety. She challenged students to stop using social media as a shield against awkwardness, to embrace uncomfortable social situations, and use that to facilitate uncomfortable but necessary conversations about tough topics like race, gender and politics.
On Tuesday, students had the opportunity to participate in Art & Justice, a watercolor class for beginners that centered on reflection of Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham Jail. Lisa Wright from Design Outreach led this creative outlet for students.
Finally, on Wednesday, Dr. Jeff Peck, professor of education, Dr. Mark Norris, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Jared Burkholder, chair of the Department of History and Political Science, led a viewing and discussion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “The Other America.” Delivered to students at Stanford University on April 14, 1967, just one year before he was assassinated, the speech tackles the intersection of racial, social, and economic inequality. The discussion was focused on how many of the issues that King spoke out against are still present in various forms today.
Though Dr. King left an indelible mark on American society during his lifetime, his vision and work remain a powerful force that inspires, challenges, and motivates everyday citizens today. In reflecting on his character, Grace students are better-equipped to think critically, serve others and care genuinely for all of those around them.
Amanda Banks is the Director of Public Relations for Grace College & Seminary.