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Lyon College hosted its most successful Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration to date

“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been,” said Maya Angelou, American memoirist and civil rights activist. 

A simple, yet profound message that details why we choose to remember and celebrate those that came before us. Those that strived to make a difference like Maya Angelou, Claudette Colvin, Rosa Parks and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The latter of whom Lyon College recently celebrated.

Lyon College’s Black Student Association hosted the 2023 MLK Day Celebration and Luncheon on Monday, January 16, in Patterson Dining Hall of Edwards Commons. Lyon College has held MLK convocations, service events and community gatherings in previous years, but this year’s event was by far the largest with roughly 300 attendees packing the dining hall.

Dr. Branndii N. Peterson, Executive Director of TRiO and Black Student Association Advisor, mentioned a quote from 1961 delivered by Dr. King in which he said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability.”

He continued, “Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. There is no time for apathy or complacency. This is time for vigorous and positive action.”

“I feel that we here at Lyon College live Dr. King’s words through our core values and our commitment to those values is what has and will continue to set us apart from other institutions,” said Peterson.

Lyon College President Dr. Melissa P. Taverner welcomed everyone to the event, inviting the community to share in good food, shared life experiences and the incredible musical selections by the Gospel Choir and Director Barretta Robinson.

Peterson explained in further detail the specifics of the Gospel Choir’s musical selection of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

“‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ was written at a time when Jim Crow was replacing slavery and the African American people were searching for an identity of their own,” said Peterson. “It was originally a poem written by James Weldon Johnson who was an author and activist.”

She continued, “Later on, Johnson’s brother John Rosamond Johnson then set it to music. In 1919, the NAACP made it the official Black National Anthem.”

Senior Andre’ Davis, Black Student Association member and Master of Ceremonies, then introduced The Reverend Billy Burris, ‘79, to lead the event’s invocation. 

Lyon College students Keidrick Wooten, Andre’ Davis, Xavier Long,  Balah Muhammad, Clifford Washington, Gavin Brunson and Malcolm Howard then performed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” with each student reciting a portion of the speech.

“Those young men worked hard and were super nervous to stand in a room full of their peers and recite the speech,” said Peterson. “They did well and I am so proud of them.”

Following the group recital, Kamesha Williams, co-founder of Highly Kreative Productions and performer, delivered a stunning “Waves of Worship” performative dance.

“There was so much emotion in her face while she danced,” said Erica Godbolt, Lyon College Marketing and Media Specialist. “It was amazing!”

After Kamesha William’s performance, Ronnie Williams, retired UCA Vice President and author, delivered the keynote address. Williams was the first person of color to serve as chair of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce and the first person of color on the Conway Development Cooperation Board. In addition, he served as chair of the Arkansas Educational Television Commission (now Arkansas PBS) and as a member of the Arkansas Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct.

During his address, Ronnie Williams spoke of five key takeaways that he wanted everyone listening to remember. These key takeaways are as follows: seek common ground, believe in the promise of democracy, garner broad support, unconditional love has the final word in reality, and ultimately, learn from the past.

Peterson ended the ceremony with closing remarks. Peterson thanked Dr. Melissa Taverner, Vice President of Student Life and Dean of Students Danell Hetrick, Dr. Brooks Blevins, the Lyon College Athletic Department, the Lyon College Advancement Team, the Lyon College Marketing and Communications Department, Creative Dining Services, and the Old Independent Regional Museum, for without them, none of this would have been possible.

Peterson also wanted to thank the MLK/Black History Month Planning Committee for their hard work and commitment to putting on such a successful event.

“We have been meeting for the past three months to get this event off the ground and have some amazing activities planned for Black History Month,” said Peterson.

Black History Month, kicking off Wednesday, February 1, is already looking to be an eventful month with the Black Student Association hitting the ground running.

The MLK Day Album is available now on Flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lyoncollegescots/sets/72177720305324734/

Black History Month Calendar:

Women's Alumni Panel
7 p.m. at Maxfield Room, Edwards Commons
Wednesday, Feb. 1

Anti-Racism Lecture
7 p.m. at Nucor Auditorium, Lyon Building
Thursday, Feb 9

50th BSA Anniversary Gala
Including dinner, dancing, and open bar
7 p.m. at Patterson Dining Hall, Edwards Commons
Saturday, Feb. 11
Buy Tickets Here: Single Ticket - $50 | Table Ticket (8-seats) - $350

Open Mic Night
7 p.m. at Maxfield Room, Edwards Commons
Monday, Feb. 13

African American Revolution
7 p.m. at Nucor Auditorium, Lyon Building
Thursday, Feb. 16

Movie Night
7 p.m. at Maxfield Room, Edwards Commons
Monday, Feb. 20

Men's Alumni Panel
7 p.m. at Maxfield Room, Edwards Commons
Thursday, Feb. 23