Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” was delivered on April 3, 1968. King was assassinated the next day. It has been nearly 50 years since that day, but King’s legacy continues, his words inspiring many and his life serving as an example. At Grace College, Asia Weimer, director of the Council for Diversity and Inclusion, and Kearstin Criswell, director of Student Involvement, wanted to create an opportunity for students to process and apply King’s life and example for more than a single day, which led them to create React Week in 2017.
This year, the second-annual React Week took place Jan. 15-19. It began with the annual event and luncheon hosted by the Committee to Commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. (CCMLK) on Monday, Jan. 15. Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Indiana’s first male African-American Attorney General, called for unity and understanding in America as he addressed the campus and community in the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. Hill explained that it is important to understand how the other side thinks on an issue and identify how past problems developed. He was optimistic about the future, saying “each and every day, we make a step to improve the plight of race relations and the plight of the justice system in America.” During a question-and-answer session after his speech, Hill was asked how this community could move forward, despite the issues that are still unresolved. He said that people must continue the effort, despite frustration, as well as finding facts for themselves, rather than accepting only the story of one side or another.
Immediately following the CCMLK event, students had an opportunity to respond with the first of two React Week SERVE events. SERVE is a student club which provides ministry opportunities for Grace students. At the first React Week SERVE event, students delivered Papa John’s pizzas to area medical facilities as well as pillows and hand-decorated pillowcases to the Beaman Home, a shelter for victims of domestic violence. They also left encouraging notes and bottles of windshield wiper fluid next to cars at the Kosciusko Community Hospital. On campus, students wrote notes and created care packages for faculty members.
The final event on Monday was Q Union, an event that pairs three student speakers with three nationally broadcast talks from Q, an organization that seeks to help Christians restore cultures as well as individuals. The national Q speakers were David Brooks, an author and conservative cultural commentator for “The New York Times,” Kara Powell, director of the Fuller Youth Institute and faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and “Propaganda,” a nationally recognized speaker, activist, poet and musician. The student speakers were freshman communication major Kierstyn Worthem, senior accounting and entrepreneurial management major Branden Haun, and sophomore communication and theater major Elizabeth Mattia.
The speakers focused on practical ways to live with purpose, be more inclusive, and consider others before oneself. Worthem encouraged students to consider how implicit biases can affect our decisions, while “Propaganda” encouraged students to think about how their identities overlap with others, understanding that we are not the only ones who have pain in our pasts and that unity is not the same as uniformity. Mattia highlighted the need to embrace our circumstances, as their purpose will not always be clear, but God is working in all of them. Haun focused on our need to live in balance, and anticipate the shifts in our lives to return to balance.
The first event on Tuesday was a Brave Space focused on the life of Dr. King. Asia Weimer led the event, selecting passages from Dr. King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. Weimer chose passages that included a call to action to pursue justice without waiting for an indeterminate time in the future. King’s words were resolute and reflective of his mission at a time when he was struggling with doubt and opposition. Weimer said “there is a danger in remembering Dr. King for who we think he was.” The letter’s powerful and direct message provides a less-known perspective of Dr. King.
On Wednesday morning, our first of three React Week Chapels featured “Propaganda.” He challenged our campus to consider the voices that they may be quick to neglect or overlook. It takes humility to listen to those we may disagree with, he said. Students left with the desire to gain perspective, rather than divide over differences.
Later on Wednesday, Dr. Brent Krammes, assistant professor of English at Grace, led a poetry workshop centered on Dr. King’s writings. The event started with a reading of poems written about Dr. King – one by Gwendolyn Brooks written soon after he was assassinated, and one written later by June Jordan. Then, students interacted directly with King’s writing. According to Krammes, King’s “rhetoric, imagery and diction are so powerful, and very steeped in biblical references and language.” Krammes led students in writing found poems from Dr. King’s speeches. Found poems take words and phrases from another work and either cut or rearrange them to create a new poem. Krammes hopes students were able to apply this experience to their own lives and current issues in our culture.
Students participated in a second SERVE event on Wednesday night, distributing more pillows and pillowcases for the Beaman Home, creating care packages for faculty, and participating in random acts of kindness around campus that included cleaning sneakers and microwaves, and starting loads of laundry.
Director of Student Involvement Kearstin Criswell spoke in Chapel on Thursday. She challenged students to consider the power of their words, reminding us that we are accountable for every single word we say. Therefore, we must always be aware of the words we use and how we use them. “Our words can bring life or cause death, and as believers we must speak words that show others the love of Jesus,” Criswell said.
React Week concluded on Friday. Our last Chapel of the week featured speaker and author Cokiesha Bailey Robinson. She spoke from the book of Philippians and challenged us to “press on” in our faith and in our lives. She recounted the biblical truth that to live is Christ and to die is gain. In the midst of adversity, when doing the right thing is tough, when life is difficult and making the right choice isn’t very popular, we must press on, she said.
Throughout React Week, students served others, engaged on controversial ideas with discussion and reflection, and were equipped to bring about positive social change. These ideals reflect the core tenants of Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr.’s life and mission, which are still shaping and impacting our world positively today, nearly 50 years after his assassinat