Kean honors 55th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit

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By: Rose Marie Kitchen | Published Feb. 11, 2016

Kean University commemorated a visit to the campus that will be remembered as iconic when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. embraced Kean University 55 years ago with a speech entitled, “The Future of Integration.”

Students, staff and faculty piled into room 192 of D’Angola gymnasium on Tuesday to honor the anniversary of that very visit to the campus in 1961.

“It was important for Kean University to host this event because it is such a diverse university,” said Alternative Student Trustee Board Member Christian Meyers, a junior physical education and health major.“It is important that we remember the history of this university.”

The Reflector, the former student newspaper of Kean University (which at the time was known as Newark State College), captured King’s visit and refrained his words.  Clippings of the article were on display at Tuesday’s event.

Writing for The Reflector, Andrea Lello reported that when Dr. King was asked for his definition of equality he replied, “That it is equal opportunity for all men and that every person should have equal protection under the law to pursue a noble end of life.

MORE: View The Reflector’s full story via the Nancy Thompson Library’s Digital Media Collection

By 1961, King was already known as a leader of the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott set in motion by Rosa Parks.

“55 years ago today Dr. King addressed a Newark State teachers college audience on a civil rights issues of the day, however, today this program is about remembering, collaborating and enjoying ourselves,” said James Conyers, director of Africana Studies. “We hope that this program will in some small way pay tribute to the 1961 visit of Dr. King as well as enlighten you, inspire you and motivate you.”

Only standing room was available as the 200 seats in the room quickly filled up. The Kean Gospel Choir kicked off the event by leading the room in song.

“Fifty-five years ago on this day it was a chilly 30 degrees outside, similar to how it is today. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stepped out of his car and walked into this exact location, know that it is now D’Angola gymnasium; he was about to deliver a speech for the future of integration,” said Frank Esposito, a professor in the History department who also served as interim university president in 2002.

Esposito remembered the minister’s visit in his speech. He explained that the King spoke before  a packed D’Angola gymnasium that was double the size of what it was on Tuesday.

Tuesday’s event continued with three student readings, directed by Ernest Wiggins, department of theater. Jesse Dorfman, Jonathan Medor and David Paul recited quotes from King’s speech.

“I wanted to perform a reading during the ceremony because for me it symbolized that a great man came and spoke at the university,” said David Paul, a junior math and education major. “It was symbolic to have some of the exact words spoken while he was here at the university but being one of the individuals to recite them had a greater meaning because it put me closer to the his legacy. This is a great inspiration because since then, many have come along and this has come to show me that a difference can be made anywhere.”

Kean University President Dr. Dawood Farahi shared the stage with representatives from Pan African Student Association (PASU), Haitian Student Association (HSA), National Pan-Hellenic Council and Thrift Nation to deliver a special message and unveiling.

“Dr. King would say to us that we achieved so much at this university but he would also say to us that the job is not done and [to] keep moving; and we have and we will do much more as time goes on,” said Farahi.

After months of raising awareness, the students have had their voices heard and the Martin Luther King Jr. Garden near the Human Rights Institute, which features a bust of King, will receive a full restoration. Last year, PASU held an Instagram campaign where students would take a picture with the statue to make it more prominent in the Kean community.

Along with the Martin Luther King Jr. Garden renovation, a plaque in honor of Dr. King has been added to the wall outside the  D’Angola gymnasium, just a few steps away from the room where he gave his speech 55 years ago.

“I was excited and took pride into receiving the news,” said Jonathan Medor, junior criminal justice major and president of HSA at Kean University. “The work that the Haitian Student Association, Pan African Student Union, Thrift Nation and the National Pan-Hellenic Council put forth for this project was challenging, but rewarding at the same time.”

“On behalf of the Martin Luther King Jr. restoration committee (Haitian Student Association, Pan African Student Union, Thrift Nation and the National Pan-Hellenic Council), we would like to say thank you to all of the students, faculty and staff that were a part of this event,” Medor added. “Without the advice, consultations and opinions that you’ve brought to our attention, this project would not be possible.”

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