Through speeches and community service on Friday and Monday, Northeastern honored the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights pioneer whose strength and courage changed the course of American history.
“When Martin Luther King died, he was working for the humblest of people you could imagine,” said Isabel Wilkerson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,” whose speech, titled “Voices from the Black Migration,” was one of the main events on Friday. “Even though he was a Nobel laureate and his picture was on the mantle of probably every African-American household in the United States, he was still working on behalf of the sanitation workers in Memphis.”
The event, held at the law school’s Dockser Hall, featured talks by lawyers for Northeastern’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project and their clients, discussing their work to address unsolved murders in the South following during the civil rights era. It also continued a day of programs at Northeastern that celebrated Dr. King.
Earlier on Friday in Blackman Auditorium, Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson delivered the keynote address at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation, one of the oldest events of its kind held on a college campus, said Richard O’Bryant, director of the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute.
Jackson gave a call to action for attendees, many of them teens from local high schools and Northeastern undergraduates.
“Young people — it’s your turn, it’s your shot to get up and stand up for your rights,” Jackson said, sharing his personal story of leadership among black students, then the entire student body, that helped redefine policies and life at the University of New Hampshire.
Among those accomplishments was Jackson’s election as the first black student body president at UNH. “What’s significant was not that I was the first — it’s that there have been three more since,” he said. “It’s about passing that baton from one generation to the next.”
Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun said that while Dr. King’s legacy is a cornerstone of American history, his work had a global impact.
“For many of you growing up in the United States, the message was about this great nation and what could be done,” Aoun said. “From outside the United States, it was a universal message of harmony, peace, respect and justice that many nations are still trying to accomplish.”
The spirit of service resonating from Friday’s programs carried through to Monday, when 300 Northeastern students participated in a daylong community service event on campus.
“This university — founded on the idea that education should not just be for the elite — is rooted strongly on community service,” said John Tobin, Northeastern’s vice president for city and community affairs, at the start of the King Day of Service and Leadership. The annual event is organized by the Center of Community Service and the Massachusetts Promise Fellowship.
Throughout the day, students worked with 17 campus and community groups in leadership workshops and service projects — including mural paining, book recording and seed planting — during the event held in the Curry Student Center.