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Campus, city leaders say MLK day is reframed by current political climate



MLK children 2007 Arbutus

Leana McClain, a lecturer in curriculum and instruction in the School of Education, directs children to a table full of books during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration in 2007 in the Wright Education Building. Organizers invited kids to participate in activities to celebrate King's life and handed out free toys and books at the end of the day. Arbutus File Photo Buy Photos

Campus and city authorities spoke to the Indiana Daily Student about what Martin Luther King Jr. Day means to the Bloomington community, especially given the current political discourse.

James Wimbush, vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs

Wimbush explained IU’s leadership breakfast is meant to mirror the breakfasts King had with his colleagues when they were planning their marches.

“They would meet early in the morning before people went to work because if they would be seen meeting at other times or if people wanted to leave work to have a meeting with King, that would be frowned upon, and also could be a risk for them,” he said.

Wimbush said IU has embraced the values King strived to embody, including those of equity and inclusiveness.

“We want to make sure that we have, on all of our campuses, a diverse community of students, scholars, staff, who feel as though they are a part of the campus, that they can contribute in significant ways, and they can thrive in their studies and in their work,” he said.

Michael McRobbie, president of Indiana University

A statement provided to the IDS from McRobbie said the University is working hard to recruit a diverse student body, faulty and staff to honor King’s values.

“As recent events have loudly demonstrated, many challenges remain,” he said. “Indeed, the contentious political climate of the last several months has underscored deep divisions within our country.”

McRobbie noted that despite progress toward King’s dream, the nation has not yet achieved it fully.

“We are also seeking to ensure that members of our community who come from diverse backgrounds interact with one another in educationally purposeful ways,” he said in the statement.

He said administrators and educators have a responsibility to insist there is no room for discrimination at IU.


As leaders in the community spoke about MLK Day, the IDS took a look back at other past celebrations honoring King. The gallery below highlights some of those moments and events from throughout the years.

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Lauren Robel, provost of Indiana University

Robel said the celebration of King’s birthday means a lot to her personally because she was in the deep south during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“I saw kind of up-close what Dr. King’s work accomplished for our country,” she said.

She also said the day is an important holiday for the campus.

“We have, as long as I remember, celebrated it at the leadership level with a leadership breakfast that kicks off the day,” she said. “It involves, really, all of the executive leadership and the deans of the campus along with lots of other folks for awards and inspirational speakers.”

Jim Sims, Bloomington City Council representative and president of the Monroe County NAACP

Sims said it is important to remember one of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous quotes, "The time is always right to do what is right."

“What we need to be talking about, and what my main emphasis is in the groups I represent, is social justice and social equity and non-discrimination,” Sims said.

He said MLK Day is more than just a celebration of culture. 

“It speaks of inclusion," he said. "It speaks of diversity, I think it does in fact speak of social justice and equity."

He also said the way the holiday is celebrated will be different this year in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

Sims said the election prompted the nation to take a step back and talk about things like how to treat people. 

“It’s kind of like we made a lot of progress, but it just seems we’ve taken a couple of steps backwards, and that concerns me," he said.

Sims said the recent revival of Bloomington United, an anti-hate group, is significant this MLK Day. He said the community is emphasizing what is not acceptable in Bloomington.

“No hate, not here,” Sims said.

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