For Brandon Bell, this year’s Martin Luther King Day was a project of inclusion.
The assistant director for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education (CREDE), Bell, knew that the event was celebrated annually at Elon University, a similar trend for the majority of college campuses. But Bell wanted to be different in honoring the civil rights icon. When he sat down to think, the question Bell wanted answered was how Elon would do the greatest amount of service involving the most amount of people.
After all, that is Elon’s mission, Bell said.
“Elon talks about creating leaders, scholars and global thinkers, and Elon asserts that an Elon education will touch the mind, body and spirit and in many ways MLK’s life, touches the mind, body and spirit,” said Bell, who started working here last semester after a stint at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. “What he set for us 50 plus years ago speaks to the values that Elon is trying to do today.”
The result of this mission culminated in a multi-day calendar of events to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which fell on his birthday, Jan. 15. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Rising Tide of Racial Consciousness.”
Last year, Elon only had five events to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day during the week of the holiday, according to E-Net. But this year, Bell spearheaded a month packed with double the events over a longer period of time. Some events included a church service, New York Times Best Selling author Wes Moore’s campus lecture and a series of workshops and group conversations.
Bell said it was a goal to improve upon Elon’s already solid list of events by being more creative in his outreach.
“I think as always Elon has done a great job celebrating MLK and had done a great job of having a robust series of events,” Bell said. “I think this year, the only difference is I tried really hard to involve faculty and staff in that process and not have the calendar coordinated among the CREDE, but have the work shared among our community.”
Bell had an eight-person planning committee to orchestrate the events, with people hailing from the Truitt Center, the Kernodle Center and the School of Education, among other departments. Bell said the diverse viewpoints from others’ expertise was crucial in planning because it gave him more ideas to consider.
“MLK’S legacy is more than just a day and it’s more than just a day where you don’t have to work,” Bell said. “It’s a commitment to social justice and a commitment to an entire community. So I was thinking of ways in which i could involve Elon’s greater community, not just the CREDE, not just black people, but faculty, staff and students to the celebration to equity among racial lines that tend to touch other issues.”
Elon’s School of Law also played a role in planning for this year’s MLK Day celebration and will have hosted three events by the end of the week: a day of service through United Way, a keynote address by Dean Emeritus/Professor George Johnson and a community dialogue.
Eric Townsend, director of communication at Elon’s School of Law, said the three days of programming serve “as a way to remember the work of King and all that he has done to advance justice in our country.”
“This is an important part of what we do as a Law School, is not only to honor the Civil Rights leaders who used the law to advance justice for all, but really to share that knowledge with the broader community and to foster dialogue that really reflects the spirit of what Dr. King worked to accomplish,” Townsend said.
But while Bell said a day of celebrating King is great, the conversation has to continue. As February and Black History Month are approaching, the dialogue about equality and justice can’t stop. Spring 2017 saw a spike of racial tension on Elon’s campus with a black student being called a racial slur and someone standing on a historically black fraternity’s plot. Bell said it’s crucial to be mindful of race relations all year instead of only for a few weeks.
That’s how change is made, he said.
“My advice to all students would be to reconsider the roles they play in equity and justice in all dimension of life particularly when it comes to racial tension on campus or even in the greater community on a national scale,” Bell said. “”
Sophomore Derrick Luster, president of the Black Student Union, agreed and said he hopes his peers use Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a launching pad for more discussions.
“My advice would be to any student on campus regarding MLK and Black History Month or diversity and inclusion initiatives more broadly would be to really figure out the roles that they play and be creative and intellectual entrepreneurs in generating solutions to these problems.”
“I hope people are using this time to internalize the significance of MLK Day and actually think and reflect about what’s going on,” he said.
Rachel Ellis, lead assignment manager, contributed reporting