Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (182809)
Credit: Pixabay

It was nearly six decades ago that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the graduates at City College of New York, enumerating the entrenched social injustices that he was working so fervently to combat.

King told the graduates that they lived “in a day of grave crisis.” He spoke of economic inequality, noting that “millions … are deprived of adequate housing, education, and medical care because of economic insecurity.” He spoke of racial injustice, what he called a “social evil that should arouse the conscience of every American,” and he interrupted the event’s upbeat aura to share the difficult news of the assassination of Medgar Evers, which had occurred only hours before the commencement ceremony on June 12, 1963. Two years later, King would address students at Queens College, where he emphasized the power of peaceful resistance.

To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the federal day of reflection and service that marks his birthday, CUNY colleges are producing virtual events that emphasize education, discussion and action. Highlights include a Letter Writing for Social Justice event at LaGuardia Community College, a program created last spring in response to the death of George Floyd, an African American man who lost his life in a fatal encounter with police in Minneapolis. The annual MLK Day celebration at Queens College will retrace the impact of Dr. King’s 1965 visit to the campus, and York College’s virtual impact day will stress the importance of voter education and mental health.

“If there is one thing that this ill-fated year has shown us, it is that the systemic inequities Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sought to change more than a half-century ago, still pervade every aspect of our society. Inequality in all its myriad forms — racial, economic, health, educational — hamper our national progress to create, in the words of the U.S. Constitution, ‘a more perfect union,’ ” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “Now, as the world seeks an end to this global pandemic in which we have lost so many, the City University of New York is committed to transforming the lives of our students through the power of education in the hopes that someday Dr. King’s vision of the nation will become a reality for all Americans.”

CUNY’s 2021 MLK Day activities include:

Queens College – Sunday Jan. 17, 3 p.m.

Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration: This year’s free, virtual presentation, “The Time is Now: Forward!” will celebrate Dr. King’s legacy and connection to today’s student activism and engagement. It will evoke his 1965 appearance at the college, where he emphasized the power of peaceful resistance in his address to students as the inaugural speaker in the John F. Kennedy Memorial Lecture Series. Today’s Queens College students will quote passages from his speech. Musical, dance and spoken word performances are planned, as well as a special video presentation highlighting the college’s history of activism. In addition, a panel of distinguished educators will discuss Dr. King’s enduring legacy. The event will be co-hosted by Queens College President Frank H. Wu and Queens College Student Association President Zaire Couloute. Queens Borough President Donovan Richards will give opening remarks. Please RSVP for this free, live-streamed event.

York College – Monday Jan. 18, 12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 2021 Virtual Impact Day: This year’s special event, titled “And Still We Rise,” will include in-depth discussions of rank choice voting and pandemic mental health care. Special guests include Congressman Gregory Meeks; political consultant Rasheida Smith; author, poet and educator Dr. Lindamichelle Baron; and York College President Dr. Berenecea Johnson Eanes. Register in advance.

Queensborough Community College – Monday Jan. 18, 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

“Selma”: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Student Government Association (SGA) invites you to watch “Selma” (2014), director Ava DuVernay’s chronicle of Dr. King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights through an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965. All CUNY students, faculty and staff may stream the film, which stars David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo and Oprah Winfrey. To register, please visit here.

LaGuardia Community College – Tuesday Jan. 19, 6 p.m. – 7:15 p.m.

Letter Writing for Social Justice: Created in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last May, Letter Writing for Social Justice engages students in social justice advocacy and reform through a letter writing campaign to legislators. Students are guided through the process of identifying their elected officials. They receive a fact sheet on social justice reform, and helpful hints on effective written communication and style. Students are given time within the session to begin their letters, and asked for their commitment in making sure the letters are mailed. A list of social justice resources will be provided. To register, visit here.