Oregon State University marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday with stirring calls to action, memories of the struggle for civil rights and the creation of a piece of art meant to celebrate diversity.
Speaking to a crowd of nearly 300 in Oregon State University’s Memorial Union Ballroom Monday morning, Tonga Hopoi, the executive director of diversity for Associated Students of OSU, reflected on her work with Muslim students after the Nov. 28 arson attack of the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis.
Hopoi, who helped to organize December’s Rally for Peace on campus, pointed to one area of common ground: “I keep in mind that besides our differences, we’ve all chosen OSU,” she said.
Hopoi’s words about building community and taking action rang true to the message of OSU’s 29th annual Peace Brunch. Speakers included co-emcees Hopoi and Alfonc Rakaj, of International Students of OSU. OSU President Ed Ray and keynote speaker Ruth Koenig were among those who spoke on the theme of this year’s event, “His Dream; Our Responsibility.”
“It is important that we share his dream and responsibility to bring it to fruition,” Ray said, referring to King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered at the March on Washington in August 1963.
Ray cited statistics that document nationwide educational inequality in public schools and income discrepancies between white and nonwhite families as reasons that those with privilege need to act, lest King’s hopes will be a “dream deferred.”
Koenig, a Eugene human rights activist, spent summers in 1964 and 1966 in Mississippi as part of the civil rights movement. The Birmingham, Ala., church bombings in September 1963 that killed four children prompted her to take action. She recalled how the flood of volunteers to the area focused attention on what was happening in the South.
“It brought the country to Mississippi,” she said. “People were able to see the horror and evil of blatant racism.”
During the brunch, Anne Gillies of OSU’s Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity office was awarded the Phyllis S. Lee Award, and Wanda Crannell, an academic advisor in the College of Agriculture Sciences and advisor for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, received the Frances Dancy Hooks Award. OSU’s men’s a capella group Outspoken performed two songs.
Across campus at Reed Lodge, a group of INTO-OSU international students painted a colorful mandala — a circular art piece common to India — using acrylic paint on canvas.
Susanna Cohen has brought the Mandala Peace Project to OSU on Martin Luther King Jr., Day for three years. She said working on a mandala allows two or more artists to create a symmetrical design by repeating patterns around the circle.
“People each do a part of it, but it fits together as a complete image,” Cohen said.
The spirit of the mandala enables artists to work together and honors each one’s contribution to the finished work of art — something she finds appropriate to King’s memory.
“Few of us know what it means to be in harmony with diversity,” Cohen said.
Contact reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or at email@example.com.