On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students at Oklahoma Christian University have the day off from classes to take time to remember the day’s meaning.
Program Chair and Professor of Communication, Brian Simmons, said King continues to be a major influence today.
“He was such a figurehead and such a relentless force in that movement and I think it is encouraging to be reminded each January that one person can have that kind of effect for good,” Simmons said. “It is a reminder that, despite whatever imperfections there are in this country, we can get it right. By that I mean we can overcome past mistakes, we can be better people, a better nation.”
Senior Kiva Maxwell has been celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day her whole life and said she does not take the holiday off.
“When I think of Martin Luther King Jr., I think of all the progress that happened because of him,” Maxwell said. “But I also think of all the work we have to do now to make sure what he fought for and what he died for is still a reality for generations to come. I want to sit and admire that because I am so grateful and thankful for this man, but I know I still have work to do.”
In the past five years, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become increasingly more notable due to movements like Black Lives Matter, but Simmons said this recognition was not always the case.
“I think, unfortunately, a lot of holidays over time lose their original significance,” Simmons said. “I think with the Martin Luther King holiday, just like with Presidents Day, the further you get from the event, the more it kind of loses its original significance and our lives are so busy that we often don’t stop to allow space for that memory for what the holiday sets aside to remember.”
Maxwell said there is much students need to know and recognize on Martin Luther King Jr. Day beyond the well-known “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I’m glad we are taking the day off because I hope we are taking the time to pause and reflect,” Maxwell said. “Martin Luther King Jr. Day says remember what we’re all fighting for, remember what is important, remember what he died for, remember that if you are going to be a person who says they are anti-racist or someone is working for unity, remember what we stand for.”
Simmons has been teaching at Oklahoma Christian for eight years and said he has noticed how meaningful Martin Luther King Jr. Day has become for students.
“I know, in the past, some of my students, some of color and some are white, have participated in specific ceremonies that will recall Dr. King’s life and the civil movement,” Simmons said. “I think for those students, it’s particularly meaningful especially if they are able to get a diverse group of students and celebrate in that way.”
Maxwell said she encourages students who have little knowledge of Martin Luther King Jr. Day to sit and listen to the “I Have a Dream” and the “I Have Gone to the Mountaintop” speeches.
“Just sit with it, I promise you won’t be able to walk it off; it is going to be sobering for you. After all that has happened, go find somewhere to serve,” Maxwell said. “These are the things I would encourage you to do: sit and reflect, listen and think and then go talk to somebody about it.”
Everyone at Oklahoma Christian has the capability to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day and learn about how they can make a difference. The following are resources about how to participate in celebrations, parades and services.