Nellis family during march

President M. Duane Nellis and first lady Ruthie Nellis lead Silent March down Court Street on Jan. 15

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Ty Douglas

Brunch keynote speaker delivered a strong MLK-themed message during the Jan. 15 Brunch in Baker Center Ballroom

Photographer: Ben Siegel

Alpha Phi Alpha

Members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity walk arm-in-arm during their Silent March on Jan. 15

Photographer: Ben Siegel

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Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration kicks off with Silent March and Brunch

More than 200 people participated in the Silent March


The 2018 Ohio University Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which carried the theme "MLK 50 Forward: Together We Win with Love for Humanity," kicked off on Jan. 15 with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity-sponsored Silent March and Brunch.

More than 200 people from the Athens and Ohio University communities, including President M. Duane Nellis and first lady, Ruthie Nellis, braved the chilly weather to participate in the annual Silent March from Galbreath Chapel on College Green to the fourth floor of Baker University Center. After the march, more than 300 people filed into the Baker University Center Ballroom for the annual brunch.

The event featured a keynote speech by University of Missouri-Columbia Associate Professor Ty-Ron Douglas, several performances and comments from University and community dignitaries.

Student dance group MarvelOUs and Rogene Evans, a member of the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Collective who presented a spoken word piece, performed during the event.

Among the featured speakers were Athens Mayor Steve Patterson, President Nellis and Jason Pina, the University’s vice president for student affairs and interim vice provost for diversity and inclusion.

President Nellis recapped the story of the first African-American graduate of Ohio University, John Newton-Templeton. He said that when Templeton graduated in 1828, he was only the fourth African-American to graduate from a U.S. institution. He said he marveled at his bravery and perseverance during a time when blacks weren’t allowed to be educated.

He also reaffirmed his commitment to diversity and inclusion with a focus on access for first-generation students.

“It’s what we make of what we have and not what we are given that separates one person from another,” President Nellis said.

Dr. Pina explained the special meaning of a Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative stamp that the U.S. Post Office first issued on Jan. 13, 1979. He said he recently moved to a new house and rediscovered the stamp while unpacking on Jan. 13, 2018 – 39 years to the date after it was issued.

Dr. Pina called it a case of fate and serendipity, because one of his best friends gave him the stamp almost 19 years ago as a thank you after they both experienced a trying time together during Black History Month that year. He said the stamp is a reminder of Dr. King, his friend and his own personal history.

“MLK and his legacy and history has kept me strong during my weak moments,” Dr. Pina said. “I’ve had difficult conversations with colleagues, friends and my children about how far we’ve come and how far we need to go and how difficult the road may be. Walking with some of you arm-in-arm this morning and being with you here today gives me hope for the future, and having a moment alone with this stamp helped me remember my past.”

Mayor Patterson said the MLK Jr. Day Silent March and Brunch is one of his two favorite Athens events of the year along with the International Street Fair because they represent community.

He said his speechwriter, his 6-year-old daughter, wrote him her own version of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He said she wrote that her dream would be that there would be no more two-hour delays from school and no more bullies.

“That last one was so impactful to me because it symbolizes no more racism, hate or prejudice,” Mayor Patterson said. “Those are the things that Dr. King fought so hard for all the way up to the April day they shot him in Memphis.”

Dr. Douglas started his keynote talk titled, "Obituary Worthy: A Tribute to a Border Crossing Brotha," by giving some background on Dr. King. He pointed out that although he came across as an older, seasoned man, he was actually a young man when he died.

“At only 39 years old, Dr. King had already lived an obituary-worthy life,” Dr. Douglas said. “It’s humbling when you think about his journey. When you look at the trajectory of his journey, you have to begin to ask different questions – not just about his life, but also where you are right now.”

He pointed out that most of us don’t know what it’s like to live your life with a death decree on you like Dr. King.

“Every single time he left home, that could have been the last time he saw his family,” Dr. Douglas said.

He said Dr. King’s dream was not about an African-American becoming president or one person accomplishing a goal, but instead it was about changing institutions as well as hope for everyone in the room.

“I want you to reflect on why you were born and how do you find that which you were born to do,” Dr. Douglas said. “Have you found that for which you are willing to die?”

Dr. Douglas said we have to ask questions about the systems in place, like colonialism, white supremacy and patriarchy, which are all across this globe. He said many times there are systems around us that suggest that we are not good enough.

“I challenge you to see space differently, to open your eyes and walk around and see what you haven’t been able to see previously,” Dr. Douglas said.

He said the histories and systems around us can impact how our stories are told, how they are filtered, who gets to tell them and how we understand our own stories.

“I believe that we are one race and a people who are bonded together,” Dr. Douglas said.

He urged the crowd to get angry at systems, specifically those that hate, are violent and undermine intentionally and unintentionally.     

In closing, Dr. Douglass said Dr. King talked about the fears and urgency of now. He said Dr. King also challenged us to love everybody, even those who look or believe differently than us.

“He said go forward, don’t settle, we cannot turn back,” Dr. Douglas said. “He said we can never be satisfied.”

Athens High School junior Rhys Carr said he learned a lot from Dr. Douglas’ talk and he really liked his quote, “Do what you love, love what you do, do what you know, you’ll know what to do.”

“I thought that was powerful,” Carr said. “I liked his energy and he did a good job of spreading his message to the audience.”

The University’s MLK Jr. Celebration wraps up on Friday, Jan. 19, with a Teach-In titled “Extending King’s Vision to Action in the Age of 45” from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Baker University Center Multicultural Center Multipurpose Room.

To find out more about this year’s events, visit www.ohio.edu/diversity/mlk.cfm.