WMU News

January's MLK celebration gearing up

Nov. 11, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Western Michigan University and the Northside Ministerial Alliance are teaming up for the third year to put on another memorable series of events honoring the memory of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.

A focal point of the collaboration will be the Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, which will kick off a week of activities at 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 9. The keynote speaker of this year's program is the Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles. Kyles has been the pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., since 1959. He has participated in many of the civil rights struggles throughout the South and is recognized as a valuable resource in the civil rights movement.

Kyles had close ties with King. After Memphis sanitation workers went on strike in February 1968, Kyles organized nightly rallies and raised money to support striking workers. He scheduled a major rally on April 3 and persuaded King to speak at it. King delivered his famous "I've Been to the Mountaintop" address and was assassinated the next day at the Lorraine Motel. Kyles was an eyewitness to King's assassination and was with King during the last hour of his life.

Kyles continued his involvement with the civil rights movement and is a founding member of the national board of Jesse Jackson's People United to Save Humanity, known as PUSH, and is the executive director of Rainbow-PUSH-Memphis. He also worked on Jackson's 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns. President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve on the Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad.

Kyles has appeared in several television documentaries on the life and death of King and has traveled the nation extensively, speaking about King and his message.

In addition to Kyles' speech, University programs, departments and registered student organizations will participate in a week-long, University-wide observation of King's life Jan. 18-21. This year's theme is "Integrating Our Past With Our Present: Impacting Our Future." A wide range of activities is planned in keeping with this year's theme "Integrating our Past with our Present: Impacting our Future."

Deveta Gardner, chairperson of the WMU Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, says working with the Northside Ministerial Alliance on the annual celebration has been a blessing.

"It is again a pleasure to collaborate with the Northside Ministerial Alliance," Gardner says. "This unique collaboration continues to blaze a trail of hope, and proves that all things are possible if we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences."

Forming the collaboration was suggested by Elder Douglas King of the Northside Ministerial Alliance. King, who was then serving as the alliance's community relations chairperson, says the arrangement has worked out well.

"The collaboration has been a bridge that has brought the two entities together that may not have blended otherwise," King says. "It has strengthened us as individuals and thus strengthened our community as well. It is an amazing display of what can be done when we focus on our similarities instead of our differences."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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