Campus News

Martin Luther King Jr. and successors honored in 39th annual Dome celebration

Community honors MLK at annual SU event

Syracuse community members gathered Sunday for the largest campus event for the late civil rights activist.

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Theoplis Stewart
Syracuse Community Choir members perform “Glory” at the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in the JMA Wireless Dome on Sunday evening.

Thousands of people from all walks of life – college students, older city residents, elementary school children – gathered in the JMA Wireless Dome on Sunday to honor the work of Martin Luther King Jr. 

The 39th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration was the largest campus event honoring the civil rights leader in the country, according to emcee Iris St. Meran, a local broadcast journalist. More than 2,000 tickets for the event – which included a banquet, art exhibition and series of performances – were sold. The theme of the celebration was “The Reach of the Dream.”

Elbethel Berhane, a senior at Jamesville-DeWitt High School, accepts the Unsung Hero award at the 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event from dean Kent Syverud, Sunday January 21.
Diana Valdivia
SU Chancellor Kent Syverud (right) recognizes Jamesville-DeWitt High School senior with the Unsung Hero award at the 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration on Sunday.

The event theme focused on the possibilities that Dr. King created. Four individuals were honored with the “Unsung Hero” award, demonstrating how Dr. King’s work continues to inspire. 

Dr. King visited the SU campus twice during his career. His second visit in 1965 called on educators to provide accessible learning and emphasized the power of education. Keynote speaker Talithia Williams reflected on this message during her speech. 

Keynote speaker Talithia Williams Ph.D., closes off the 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event on Sunday night.
Diana Valdivia
Keynote speaker Talithia Williams speaking at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. event on Sunday.

An associate mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd College, Williams is an accomplished mathematician who previously worked at NASA and the National Security Agency. Despite her impressive career, Williams made it clear that her path as an underrepresented student in STEM was not a piece of cake.  

“What does it mean to be seen first as a coffee-getter and not a colleague?” Williams said. “To be seen as a servant, not a statistician?” 

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Adanfo‘s performance at Sunday’s 39th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. event.
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Diana Valdivia
A performance at Sunday’s event by Adanfo.
Dominique's Dance Ensemble performs during the 39th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. event in the Dome on Sunday.
Diana Valdivia
Dominique’s Dance Ensemble performs Sunday in the JMA Wireless Dome.

With bouts of humor sprinkled in, Williams’ speech included an analogy comparing current social issues to an unfinished cake, explaining that while society may look good on the outside, we are not perfect. 

“Every day it seems like we grow one step closer to becoming a society where individuals are actually judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin,” said Williams, “At least most days.” 

To acknowledge current global conflicts, representatives of Hendricks Chapel offered an invocation different than years past. Hendricks Chapel Dean Brian Konkol said an invocation is simply an invitation to participate in something larger than oneself. Konkol invited a local imam and rabbi to join him on stage. The trio’s invocation called for unity in such divisive and tense times. 

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Theoplis Stewart II
Performers take the stage at Sunday’s MLK Celebration.

Multiple local groups performed throughout the event. African drumming and dance group Adanfo Ensemble and the Syracuse Community Choir were among those groups.

Four community members were recognized with the Unsung Hero awards for community service: SU School of Education professor Sharon Dotger; biomedical-engineering senior Mia-Marie Fields; Jamesville-DeWitte High School senior Elbethel Berhane; and community development advocate Murjan Abdi.  

After attending the event, Ashley Jimenez, who works at SU’s Center for Learning and Student Success, said more should be done to increase inclusivity on campus. 

“The dream is not complete yet,” Jimenez said. “Things are still unfinished.” Williams echoed this saying, “Some days we take two steps back.”