MLK Event Seeks to “Uphold Beloved Community”

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Minneapolis College will honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memory this year with the Racial Justice Oratorical Contest. A part of the MLK Day festivities, the contest strives to encourage students to discover how to heal their communities using their own voice and connecting them to King’s life and ideologies.

“This year our event is about upholding beloved community,” said Charles Watson, Program Coordinator of the African American Empowerment (AME) Program. In previous years King was honored with a large gathering and a keynote speaker, but due to COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd, Watson decided to take a different approach.

The speech and performance contest will be a part of the virtual celebration taking place on January 21. Students are asked to submit a 500- to 1000-word speech or performance piece in response to three questions inspired by a paragraph from King’s final published work, “Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos?” The paragraph is included in the call for submissions as well.

“If we are going to listen to anybody on the race problem in America, there are certain people who have immediate credibility and Dr. King is one (of them),” said Watson. “What will it mean for a junior who goes to South High or North High who’s been watching what’s going on and [who’s] going through all of this to have a chance to interact with Dr. King’s voice and to use King to speak their own truth.”

The contest is open to Minneapolis College students as well as juniors and seniors attending Metro Area public high schools. Watson feels that “experts” such as civil rights leaders as keynote speakers at events like MLK Day can be inspiring, yet many of these high-demand speakers might not be in touch with what Minneapolis specifically needs.

“I feel like folks have a lot to say and a lot on their hearts. I hope they see this as an opportunity to emote in a constructive way,” said Watson. “I hope that people will channel their frustrations or disappointment into this constructive outlet.”

Floyd’s murder as well as the unjust killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many more at the hands of police, sparked civil unrest, peaceful protesting as well as violent uprisings across the nation and the entire world.

Watson wants students to explore how to repair their communities in the aftermath of Floyd’s murder as well as look for opportunities to move toward justice. Recently racism has been discussed as a public health issue just like COVID-19 because systemic and institutionalized racism leads to the deterioration of the mind, body and spirit of Black and Brown people.

Even though the world witnessed Minneapolis fall into destruction, Watson believes there is still hope for healing. “We are at the center of a diagnosis of the sickness, I want us to be at the center of the cure.”

A $1,000 scholarship to Minneapolis College will be awarded to five Minneapolis College students and five juniors and/or seniors from Metro Area public high schools.

Please send submissions to Charles Watson and use the email subject line “MLK Day Oratorical Contest.” One submission is allowed per student. Submissions are due by Monday, January 4, 2021.

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