The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire will host a Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration — a cornerstone event of the campus recognition of Black History Month — at 5 p.m. Feb. 10. As with so many events, this signature celebration will take place virtually, inviting campus and community members to log in and safely take part in honoring and elevating King's life and legacy.
Co-hosted by the division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, this year's event will offer a unique way to "gather" online and create the same sense of community and hope that has become the hallmark of the annual celebration.
Dr. Demetrius Smith, special assistant to the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, looks forward to sharing an evening of poetry and other readings, music, an award presentation and a keynote speaker.
"The 2021 MLK Celebration will be a little different this year," Smith says. "But Michael Thomas, student services coordinator in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, and I have worked to provide the UW-Eau Claire campus community with an engaging and thought-provoking online program. Recently, social justice and racial equality have been mainstays in discussions across the country. It is important to celebrate the life and work of MLK as he remains an inspiration — his legacy lives on through all of us.”
Students play a key role each year in the planning and execution of the MLK Celebration, and their voices in and about the important date demonstrate the event's meaningfulness.
"I believe that the campus MLK celebration has been true gift to everyone here at the university," said Destini Wilson, a junior criminal justice major from Eau Claire and social justice intern for the Office of Multicultural Affairs. "I love that this one will be virtual, giving everyone the opportunity to tune in to what others have to say about MLK. The Black community on campus has been through a lot this year, and this event will help us come together when we need it the most."
The keynote speaker for the event will be Damario Solomon-Simmons, a national civil rights attorney based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Solomon-Simmons has successfully represented clients in federal, state, tribal and administrative courts. He also was an integral member of the legal team that in September 2020 filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma courts seeking reparation and reconciliation for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre; the case is pending.
Another highlight of the evening's program is the presentation of the UW-Eau Claire Martin Luther King Jr. Social Justice Leadership Award. Each year the division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Student Affairs honors one faculty or staff member who has demonstrated an exceptional ability to advocate for underserved and underrepresented groups, and who leads, organizes and engages the community in the difficult work of EDI through their voice, vision and actions.
This year's award will be presented to Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton, professor of history. Ducksworth-Lawton was a recent recipient of the Regents Diversity Award, the highest honor given by the UW System for contributions toward educational equity, diversity and inclusion. For nearly three decades she has worked to remove barriers, foster understanding and offer her wise and measured approach to matters of racism and social justice on campus and in the greater community. Dr. Rose-Marie Avin, the 2019 Social Justice Leadership awardee, will present the campus distinction to Ducksworth-Lawton.
In addition to providing a moment to celebrate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, this annual event sheds light on the many current and ongoing fights for social justice, Thomas said.
"The 4th annual MLK Celebration serves as a reminder that the fight for racial justice and equality is not only happening across the country but here at UW-Eau Claire as well," Thomas says. "From the creation of the Center for Racial and Restorative Justice to the development and inclusion of additional multicultural student organizations, I believe that the inaugural MLK celebration four years ago and each event since serve to inform many of our current EDI efforts."