January 23, 2017, BY Paula Cogan Myers

Bucknell's Martin Luther King Jr. Week brought to campus social justice leaders, including Arun Gandhi, grandson of the leader of India's independence movement, to discuss King's legacy of peace and nonviolence.

This year's series, "Charleston, Rwanda and the Possibilities for Peace," took place from Jan. 16 to 22 and included a charitable gift drive and an array of events designed to raise awareness and empower participants to enact individual and community change. 

MLK 2017 Graphic

"Bucknell's MLK Week was established to explore the relevance of MLK's vision and legacy today," said Professor Carmen Gillespie, English, who coordinated the events along with Denelle Brown, associate dean for diversity & inclusion, as well as the Office of Civic Engagement and student staff.

"This year's theme addressed violent, tragic human rights violations and how they relate to peace," Gillespie said. "We wanted to think about these issues from domestic and international perspectives and ask how we can contextualize them in terms of activism, and the ways in which King thought about social change."  

Beloved Community Dinner
King's philosophy of nonviolence manifests through his goal of "The Beloved Community," which according to The King Center embodies his work toward justice and peace. The student-facilitated Beloved Community Dinner, "A Movement Like Kaepernick: How One Individual Can Spark Possibilities for Peace," asked more than 200 students, faculty and staff to join together for lively discussion.

Each table shared a meal and discussed football player Colin Kaepernick's recent decision not to stand during the National Anthem as a silent protest in support of people of color being oppressed in the U.S. Students led the conversations, which moved from Kaepernick's activism to individual responsibility within the larger community.

Basketball player Megan McGurk '17, economics, became interested in facilitating after attending a community dinner last spring. "That dinner allowed me to hear the opinions of others and meet people from all different backgrounds," she said. She volunteered for this community dinner to encourage other student-athletes to experience it as well.

Participants placed sticky notes on "spectrum of activism" posters to indicate the ways they share their voices, from initiating a discussion with friends to writing a letter to an elected official or attending a protest. For student facilitator Meghan Kovac '18, accounting & financial management, this activity was the highlight of the evening. "I believe that these discussions and the self-reflection we touched on is what will lead to improvements in many parts of our lives," she said.

Speakers and Book Discussions
Each of the week's featured speakers led lunch-hour discussions on books that were chosen to complement their lectures. Sharon Washington Risher's mother, two cousins and a childhood friend were killed along with five others in the 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C. Since then, she has become a spokesperson for Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, grassroots organizations dedicated to re-examining U.S. gun laws.

Sharon Washington Risher
Sharon Washington Risher speaks about gun violence in the wake of the Charleston shootings. Photo by Cameron Goodworth

Risher spoke about faith, forgiveness and racial division in the U.S. and expressed how difficult it has been to get through this tragedy. She said that Moms Demand Action gave her a platform to go on when she didn't think she could. "If you ever feel the kind of pain that myself and family members and other people who have been involved in gun violence feel, you will realize that things have to change with America's love of guns," she said. "We have to understand power does not come from carrying a gun. Power comes from protecting each and every person."

Joseph Sebarenzi
Joseph Sebarenzi reads from his book, God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation. Photo by Cameron Goodworth

Joseph Sebarenzi served as the president of Rwanda's parliament from 1997 to 2000, working for peace and reconciliation following the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Sharing his personal memoir, God Sleeps in Rwanda: A Journey of Transformation, he discussed his dedication to reconciliation for his country after 800,000 people had been murdered, including his parents, seven siblings and numerous other relatives.

Sebarenzi told his story, which included growing up around violence and being forced to leave his home country twice. He expressed that while working to live in peace and moving toward reconciliation is difficult, he thinks it is the only way to ensure that a culture of violence is not perpetuated.

The week's final speaker was Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, the leader of India's independence movement. Arun Gandhi founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute.

Arun Gandhi
Arun Gandhi speaks about nonviolence and King's legacy. Photo by Cameron Goodworth

Gandhi told the story of King's visit to India in 1959, just one year after King spoke at Bucknell. In Mumbai, King spent one night in the museum room that had been Gandhi's grandfather's, sleeping on a straw mat and reflecting on nonviolent resistance as an underpinning for his civil rights work. Gandhi went on to emphasize the need to understand how all forms of violence break down society and that individuals must practice daily nonviolence in order to live a life of peace.

Annie Girton'19, early childhood education, who works for the Griot Institute for Africana Studies, said that attending MLK Week events gave her a new perspective on social justice.

Arun Gandhi
Arun Gandhi speaks to a packed crowd. Photo by Cameron Goodworth

"While listening to each of the speakers, my eyes were opened," she said. "Dr. Ghandi spoke of beginning to bring about change by first striving to better and strengthen our own minds. Though sometimes these larger issues can seem overwhelming, the concept of starting by finding the good in myself and then extending that to my interactions with others gave me renewed hope that I can effectively contribute to this effort and help those around me."

Interfaith Service for Peace and Justice
The Sunday service led by University Chaplain John Colatch closed the week by bringing several faith traditions together. "In the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr., we attempted to express thanks for our common humanity and build bridges to encourage understanding between communities."

Learn more about the 2017 MLK Week at Bucknell.