Harper College

Harper College to host first Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

Martin Luther King CelebrationFrom the outset, Dr. Tamara Johnson, vice president of Harper College's Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, had the vision to create the tradition of hosting an annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on campus.

That’s because Dr. King’s leadership in the Civil Rights Movement and example of meeting injustice with nonviolent opposition so perfectly align with Harper’s principles as related to equity and social justice, said Monica Shirley, coordinator of student diversity initiatives in the college’s Office of DEI.

“We want to bring more awareness of the tenets that Dr. King stood for and that Harper stands for,” Shirley said. “We will increase people’s knowledge while celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King.”

JoAnne Bland Selma Civil Rights ActivistWith this free event – set for noon-1 p.m. January 31 in Harper’s Wojcik Conference Center, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine – the college’s Office of DEI will celebrate an American icon and feature one of the youngest members of the Civil Rights Movement as keynote speaker. When she was an 11-year-old resident of Selma, Alabama, JoAnne Bland joined the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), becoming an activist for voting rights and justice for African Americans. She marched alongside Dr. King, experiencing both the horrors and victories of the movement he led until his assassination in 1968.

Johnson first met Bland in 2018 during a 10-day Civil Rights Pilgrimage that included a visit to Selma. Because she thought that Bland was so amazing, she wanted her to serve as the inaugural keynote speaker for Harper’s celebration of Dr. King. 

“Ms. Bland has lived such a rich life being part of things that most of us have only read about in books or seen in movies,” Shirley said. “The Civil Rights Movement can be somewhat illusory to us. It’s different to hear about it from someone who was there. What did it smell like? What did it sound like? How do you join a movement, particularly at that age? Ms. Bland can tell us.”

Everyone, including Harper students and alumni, employees and community members, is invited to the celebration. Registration is preferred. Shirley said these events are particularly valuable for students, who don’t just learn from guest speakers, but also through interacting with faculty, staff and the Harper community in a context beyond the classroom.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration

When: Noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, January 31
Where: Harper College, Wojcik Conference Center, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine

Cost: Free

Keynote Speaker: JoAnne Bland, human rights activist and member of the Civil Rights Movement
Everyone is welcome. Registration is preferred. Learn more.

Taking place in late January, this celebration also serves as a bridge between the Dr. King holiday (the third Monday in January, during which Harper is closed) and February’s Black History Month, which will again feature a range of campus events, including a book talk, an open discussion about racism and “Showtime at Harper,” a talent showcase featuring students from Harper and surrounding school districts. Get more information.

Shirley said this collection of events is just one result of Harper’s investment in staffing and funding its Office of DEI. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration will kick it off.

“This should be a signature event,” Shirley said. “I see this as an indicator of the road we’re on at Harper. When you do work [with a DEI focus], you’re not always around to reap the benefits. As someone who has been at Harper since 2017, I’ve been fortunate to see the needle moving.”

Tags: DEI, Community
Last Updated: 6/3/24