Multi-Faith Commemoration of MLK reminds attendees that there is still progress to be made

Dora Kreitzer, Assistant News Editor

As a part of the 2022 Martin Luther King Jr. Week “Mighty Causes Calling: Community, Coalition & Radical Revolution,” the Multi-Faith Commemoration of the Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. drew people of all faiths and backgrounds to Rooke Chapel on Sunday, Jan. 23 to honor his incredible work. 

This year, given that the King family requested that people not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day without the passage of voting rights legislation, this was aptly not a celebration but a commemoration of the work and progress made by King and a call for everyone to be persistent in righting the wrongs that continue today. 

While the event is typically called the “Multi-Faith Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Dr. King,” the slight linguistic change did not affect the tone: commemorating Dr. King’s legacy, honoring the loss and voicing calls to action. There was an environment of community and inspiration, strengthened through readings, prayers and collective song.

“The atmosphere was one of anticipation and there was a sense of renewed hope in the air. As Rev. Kurt Nelson and President John Bravman highlighted, it was great for us to gather in spite of the reality that COVID is still with us. We were all there gathered in community to be reminded of our call to fight for justice for all peoples lives, that is directly reflective of the prophetic witness of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and so many others. Some things must be done in community and [the MLK commemoration] is one of those things,” Gospel Music Fellow Rev. Karlos Nichols said. 

The selected readings at the service were all drawn from King’s final sermon “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution,” whose words many speakers pointed out still ring true today, 54 years after the speech was delivered. 

“When you read a bunch of King’s work, you see how often he weaves in repeating themes, so there are some great highlights. But the central image of being awake amidst all the shifting landscape felt especially poignant in this moment of demand for racial justice and equity – especially as concerns voting rights and access,” Rev. Kurt Nelson, director of Religious & Spiritual Life said.

“Dr. King leaves us always with responsibility and action as an orientation for how we are supposed to be in the world. That is: we think and we do, we speak because we can do, we do because we have a shared sense of accountability to the world that we want to create,” Associate provost of Equity & Inclusive Excellence and Professor Nikki Young said. 

On top of readings of King’s final sermon done by Bucknell Student Government President Bernadette Maramis ’24, Associate Provost Young, Black Student Union President Bryanni Williams ’23 and Vice President Jala Grant ’22, there were also readings and prayers from the Muslim, Jewish and Sikh traditions. 

“Indeed, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. To reiterate and reinforce, we cannot begin to see change in the world until we see to the change that needs to occur in ourselves. And in King’s words ‘change does not roll on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.’ Struggle is an inevitable reality but also an essentiality. Struggle is often seen as something negative, but struggling towards the betterment of oneself… will lead to something beautiful,” Muslim Student Association Secretary and Multi-Faith Fellow Ibrahim Ware ‘24 said. 

“In these times in which safety and freedom are daily on the line, especially for those of us who hold historically marginalized and oppressed identities, it is often easier to walk through the world awake, but in a slumber. Dr. King’s message of remaining awake is more crucial today than ever before. Apathy is appealing. Numbness is tempting. So each day, God renews not only our bodies but our will to go through life eyes-wide-open. What a great burden and what a fantastic blessing it is” Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Jessica Goldberg said. 

“Today we are gathered together to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. King in the context of another year of disruption, upheaval, continued injustice, and loss… I find myself often coming back to two specific lines these days, when I feel exhausted and overwhelmed by the current state of our nation… Oh Lord, grant me this, that I do not hesitate from performing good actions, I may not fear the enemy when I go to fight, and assure me I may become victorious,” Multi-Faith Fellow Jasmine Minhas ’22 said. 

“We need space to build those relationships, have those encounters, and pique our curiosity about our classmates and neighbors. And we need space, as Valerie Kaur says, to imagine a world defined by love and justice,” Nelson said. 

Much of the music was organized by Rev. Karlos Nichols, who visits monthly to do Gospel Sings and micro-teachings of context for the music. Nichols not only performed songs by himself and arranged songs for the Rooke Chapel Gospel Choir, but he also led the attendees in powerful and uniting songs that were able to tell a story that words might otherwise fail to capture. For the MLK commemoration, Rev. Nichols chose largely Gospel, Negro Spirituals and African American Hymns. 

“I find that it is important to always honor the gift of music that was given by my ancestors, even when hope seemed so far away as it did for them. The structure, the text, and the use of hope-laced lyrics are strong reminders of God’s presence and it always brings a calming assurance that the work that myself and many others do is still valid. When I sing spirituals and gospel music, I can hear and see my mother, my grandmother, my aunties, and all of those who came before me singing along also. These are their songs, they are now my songs, and they will be the generation after me’s songs also. ‘If I can Help Somebody’ was a favorite of Dr. Kings and it was only fitting that his admiration for a ‘still so current’ current be included in the commemoration. Every song [at the commemoration,] he and all leaders were extremely familiar with,” Rev. Nichols said. 

“The movement is rooted in song and we will sing today… music was and is the lifeblood of movements. And the spirituals that rang out on plantations hundreds of years ago, traveled through the ears and voices of oppressed and enslaved folk and rang out anew in the protests of the 1950s and 60s and speak to us today still of a hope beyond hope. So we raise our voices in their memory but also rooted in this time and this place” Rev. Nelson said.

Rev. Nelson hopes that attendees take away “first, that we stand on the shoulders of many people in our work toward a more just world.  And second, the call to action, that the struggle demands our presence and work.  And third, that hope transcends.  These are hard days, just to survive and navigate the mundane – let alone organize and advocate and build coalitions. But faith means – as King said – taking the first step, even when we can’t see the whole staircase.”

Though MLK week activities are coming to a close, there are a few remaining events. For those interested, visit bucknell.edu/MLKWeek for the most up-to-date information.

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