by Sydney Olinger ’23
As we enter the beginning of Black History Month, it is important that we reflect on the works of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and all of the people who have made a difference in the fight for racial equality.
While the MLK Convocation at Providence College typically takes place over the span of five days, starting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, this year will be a little different. Just as many other events on campus are now being held virtually, so, too, will this year’s MLK Convocation.
As the Convocation committee began the planning process for this year’s events, they recognized the need to hold everything virtually. Because of this, they decided to extend the celebration throughout the month of February, as it is also Black History Month. The committee felt this would be a great way to not only take advantage of the new virtual platform, but to also continuously remind the PC community of what Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for throughout his life.
The MLK Convocation Week at PC was founded in 2018 by Ralph Tavares, former director of multicultural student success and assistant dean of undergraduate and graduate studies. As a PC student, Tavares was an MLK scholar, and once he began working at the College, he decided he wanted to do something special for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to show appreciation for the scholarship the school offers and in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the assasination of MLK, Jr.
According to Dr. Wanda Ingram, senior associate dean of undergraduate studies, Tavares’ nickname was “the mayor of Providence College,” due to the fact that he knew everyone on campus. This popularity worked to his benefit as he created a large and strong committee within three months and was able to successfully organize the first MLK Convocation Week in 2018. “I have to say, I’ve worked on a lot of committees in higher education, but I have never had so much fun and enjoyed working as I have with this Convocation committee,” said Ingram.
This year, all events will be virtual with the exception of the prayer vigil, which will be in-person and will take place in St. Dominic Chapel. The vigil celebrates and remembers the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. and is the most solemn event of Convocation Week.
Nancy Kelley, senior executive assistant to the president, believes that though next year may be a different story in terms of COVID-19 guidelines, the virtual events may continue as a way of making the events more accessible to the greater community.
Since the College instituted the MLK Convocation, it has been fortunate enough to host notable keynote speakers each year. The first year saw Bernice King, renowned orator and daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., followed by Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Ndaba Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. This year, with the help of committee members Tara Baxter and Deirdre Driscoll-Lemoine ’98G, the keynote speaker will be the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, basketball legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Aside from his countless awards, his award-winning documentary, Kareem: Minority of One, displays his passion for racial equality and how he was able to overcome challenges as a Black man in his career.
Along with a keynote speaker, each year, an MLK Vision Award is awarded to a person whom the committee recognizes “as embodying all of the characteristics, meanings, values, and purposes of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Kelley.
There is a period of time before Convocation when people can nominate others who they believe deserve and qualify for the award. The interesting part about this award is that it is unlike most academic awards. The MLK Vision Award has been awarded to many people over the last four years, including faculty members, students, alumni, student organizations, and even people outside of the PC community.
The Convocation committee recognizes that there are numerous people who embody the role that Martin Luther King, Jr. played in our society, and believes the Vision Award should go to any and all who deserve it.
Every person that is a part of the Convocation committee, as well as all those in our Friar Family, plays an important role in making this month a time to remember one of the most influential historical figures and to reflect on the incredibly positive transformations he made in our society and the changes people continue to make in his memory.
For more information on the 2021 MLK Convocation Month and virtual events, visit https://college-events.providence.edu/mlk-convocation/.