The dinning room was elegantly decorated. Delicate white flowers stood in the vases that were centered on each of the black tableclothes. Jazz music played while people chose their seats before helping themselves to the elaborate buffet staffed by chefs donning white coats and aprons and the traditional tall chef’s hat. Looking around, it was hard to believe that this room was the Akers Hall cafeteria.
On Monday, January 17th, the Second Annual MLK, Jr. Celebratory Community Dinner was held in Akers Hall and was one of this year’s many events focused on honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. The theme for the dinner was “Celebrating a Global Community” and was complemented by a short program in which representatives from a diverse variety of groups from the MSU community spoke to those who attended the dinner.
[bread]Vincent Butler, a student and member of the Black Poets Society, read aloud a poem he wrote for the evening. The Hillel Jewish Student Center was represented by David Dworin who spoke about the role that civil rights plays in everyone’s lives and the importance of celebrating “the diversity that enriches us all.” The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty, Staff and Graduate Student Association (GLFSA); the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1585 union and the King/Chavez/Parks College Day Program, a program designed to increase the number of under represented minority students in post-secondary education, also had speakers participate in the program.
[mlk] D. Venice Smith, a consultant for multicultural issues at MSU, organized the dinner. Although slow moving because of a cast on her ankle, she was energetic and spoke excitedly about the event, greeting familiar faces as they arrived for dinner. Like the evening’s theme, “Celebrating a Global Community”, Smith said the purpose of the dinner was to celebrate the global community that is here at MSU. The event is an opportunity for different groups that represent the three different parts of MSU’s community- faculty, staff and students- to come together.
Paulette Granberry Russell, director of Affirmative Action Compliance and Monitoring and senior advisor to the President for Diversity at MSU, spoke about the symbolic importance of the meal.
“Breaking bread together tends to break down a lot of different barriers,” she said looking out on her audience, most of whom were enjoying the garlic chicken, prime rib or one of the gourmet desserts available that evening.
The meal was planned by MSU’s Housing and Food services but the food served did not have any special significance in regards to the “global community” theme, Smith said. However, out of the 409 people registered to attend the dinner, no one seemed to complain about the fresh fruit and vegetable hors d’oeuvres or the chocolate mud pie dessert. Food has the power to bring people of many backgrounds together, and Sunday night was a prime example of unifying while dining.
[mlk1] The Annual MLK, Jr. Celebratory Dinner premiered last year in response to a lack of MLK events that MSU faculty and staff were able to attend. Although classes for students are canceled on MLK, Jr. day, MSU employees still work. The dinner was scheduled at a time when faculty and staff, as well as students, were able to attend. MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon attended and gave opening remarks for the program of speakers calling the dinner an “opportunity for all of us [at MSU] to come together…and celebrate a compassion for inclusion and social justice.”
Nathaniel Lake, Director of Operations for the MSU women’s basketball team, registered to attend the dinner after seeing a flyer promoting it. He said that his involvement in athletics often keeps him from going to events.
“I don’t get a chance to do a lot of things on campus, and I’d like to change that,” Lake said. “This seemed like a good, diverse event that I was able to attend.”
[mlk2] Following the dinner, which ended around 6:15 pm, many people participated in a commemorative march to the Wharton Center where they met more marchers who had begun their march at Beaumont Tower. At the Wharton Center the MSU Theatre Department presented a special preview of Blues for Mr. Charlie in honor of Dr. King.
This year is the 25th year that MSU has celebrated and honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through campus wide activities and events. The Annual MLK, Jr. Celebratory Community Dinner is only in its second year of existence. However, with its ability to bring faculty, staff and students together through good food and celebration of a positive message, it is sure to become a lasting tradition that will allow people on MSU’s diverse campus to celebrate their global community for many years to come.

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