The third Monday of January marks Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in honor of the infamous late civil rights activist. Alma College observes the holiday by cancelling classes that take place between noon and 6 P.M. There is a short chapel service every year in which the Alma Choirs sing and the chaplain gives a sermon.
This year’s chapel service was based on Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon that he gave exactly two months before his assassination. The service included direct quotes from the sermon and the chaplain gave his own sermon about doing what is right rather than what is expected.
The choirs also sang multiple spirituals in honor of the holiday, such as “The Storm is Passing Over” by Charles A. Tindley and “Way Over in Beulah Lan’,” a traditional spiritual. “I feel any music whose texts reflect the human desire, and struggle, for a life free from racism, poverty, and violence would be fitting for a concert or service honoring Dr. King,” said Will Nichols, professor and conductor of the Alma Choirs.
Some students, such as Elizabeth Pechota (‘22) did not receive the day off in observance of MLK Day in high school. When asked about her previous experiences and her thoughts on Alma College’s observations of MLK Day, Pechota said, “Coming from a school that does not celebrate MLK day I am very grateful that we do choose to observe the day, but I think we can do more.”
Other students received the day off in high school, such as Arieanna Eaton (‘20). “My hometown observes MLK Day by closing the schools and offices, but there aren’t that many community events. This is why I’m grateful that Alma College opens the events to not only the campus but also the community so everyone can participate,” Eaton responded when asked about her high school experiences.
Despite the gratitude towards the college for its chapel service and other small events put on for the campus and the community, many believe there is room to do more in honor of Dr. King. “I believe that MLK Day should be treated similar to Honors Day. We have a few presentations in the afternoon but taking the entire day to observe and having the students being even more involved would make up for the classes that would be missed,” said Pechota.
Eaton felt the same way when asked. “I would like to see MLK day structured like Honors Day with student-led events and conversations and presentations in line with the topic of Dr. King’s message. It should be promoted like Honors Day where professors will advertise certain events as extra credit, or make it mandatory for students to attend a number of events,” Eaton said.
Some professors felt similarly as well. “If the college wishes to honor and recognize Dr. King, and wants our students to feel the relevance of his life’s work to our lives today, I would wish professors with interest and expertise in the civil rights movement, the war on poverty, the anti-war movements, voting rights, and nonviolent civil disobedience would plan an afternoon of lectures and programs centered on these subjects,” Dr. Nichols responded.