Elon University is launching its week-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program Jan. 18-22 to pay tribute to the civil rights leader.

The 2016 program is making some changes from previous years to spark increased discussion about race relations in America. The program will begin Monday, Jan. 18 with a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Remembrance March and a candlelight vigil from 10 a.m. to noon. 

Jamie Butler, assistant director of Elon's Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education (CREDE), said more efforts have been made to increase open dialogue from the student community. She is encouraging students to attend a social justice poetry slam Friday, Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. in The Oak House and participate in the open mic portion. 

“The overall goal for me with this event is to provide pathways and opportunities for students to talk considering the national climate around race,” Butler said.

While new events will emerge, old ones will be redesigned.

Middle school students in the local community have competed in an essay competition in previous years with a winner from each grade level. This year's writing challenge will target Elon students as well.

“The program will now be expanding to involve Elon students in order to get them talking about King’s message and what it means to them,” Butler said. "This year’s essay prompt revolves around the program’s overall theme — 'Why We Can't Wait.'"

On Tuesday, the winners of the writing contest will be announced at College Coffee followed by the talk, “What Does MLK Say to Us Today?”

Various community service projects will also be a major focus of the program to increase student engagement. Four service trips will be held Tuesday, Jan. 19 and Friday, Jan. 22 as part of the Get on the Bus Project Series. Students who choose to sign up will meet in front of the Moseley BioBus stop and travel to a different project site each day. 

Service trips on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are scheduled to depart in the morning so students with afternoon classes can attend, while Wednesday's trip departs in the afternoon so students with morning classes can attend.

Wednesday's festivities will feature the Why We Can't Wait Now Oratorical Contest. The contest allows students to write a speech about the importance of speaking out against racism and discrimination.

The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life will host a service Thursday, Jan. 21 at noon inside the Numen Lumen Sacred Space to honor King's life as a religious leader in his community.

The commemorative program will conclude Friday night with the social justice poetry slam.

"This is a time for us to stand together in solidarity,” Butler said. “It’s about finding the message behind the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Graphic by Stephanie Hays.