In front of a few hundred warm bodies that kept staggering in as the night went on, Fort Hays State University celebrated the 80th birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. Sponsored by Diversity Affairs and hosted by the Black Student Union, the candlelight service entitled “Rise Up You Are the Dream” kicked off Monday at 7 p.m. in the Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center.
BSU president and vice president Bryan Humphrey and Miranda Lucas welcomed attendants as the master and mistress of ceremonies. Immediately following was a proclamation from Hays Mayor Barbara K. Wasinger, which was delivered by Shana Meyer.
“The civil rights movement acted as a vehicle,” Meyer said. “Hays is committed to ensuring the civil rights of all its citizens.”
Before the keynote addresses of the evening, various local performers took the stage not only to entertain, but also to honor the memory of the late King. The Singing Irish-Falcons, a select choir from both Kennedy and Felten Middle Schools, sang several songs. During one, a rendition of “My Country Tis of Thee,” the audience was encouraged to join in behind the cue of George Jackson.
A break in the singing gave way for Erin Renard to recite Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise,” which was followed by the TMP Singers, who took the stage to sing a variety of 1900s genre music.
In the first of the evening’s two main events, Wasinger’s keynote address not only recapped King’s historic life, but it also begged the audience to apply his mission to their future.
“How did you start your day?” Wasinger said. “Was it a start where you believe you could grasp anything before you?”
She credited King with paving the way for national figures like President Barack Obama.
“Our 44th President will be African-American Barack Obama,” she said. “No matter your political affiliation, you can truly feel a sense of pride.”
Her comments preceded one of the main topics of her address: How King’s work has trickled down to small communities.
“To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did,” Wassinger said. She credited her appointment as mayor to the five women who had come before her on the local city commission, stating that they paved the way for her by being first-timers.
Wasinger exited to an ovation before Jackson took the podium to recite King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”
Jackson believes that even though the speech is one of the most famous in history, and often the first work thought of during Black History Month and King day celebrations, it is far from overdone.
“The speech is still important because we are still ever striving towards Dr. King’s vision of justice and peace,” Jackson said. “College was the first place I heard the speech in its full capacity. We had an entertainer who was dressed like King.”
Humphrey closed the service by inviting all attendants to join the performers and hosts for some cake and punch served by the University Activities Board.