Looking back at Martin Luther King Jr. Day at CMU, protests


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The Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace March and Vigil begins at the Bovee University Center on CMU's campus, Jan. 16.

Despite being a national holiday since 1986, Martin Luther King Jr. Day has only been recognized at Central Michigan University for little over a decade.

About 11 years later, the university spends a week honoring the civil rights activist.

In 2004, CMU’s student body peacefully protested in an attempt to get MLK Day recognized as a national holiday because the university didn't close. To raise awareness, students sat outside the Bovee University Center in protest, noting that MLK Day should be “a day on, not a day off.” 

The sit-in lasted multiple days to ensure their voices were heard. Some days, there were more than 30 students protesting.

The students won their case the following year and the university stopped holding classes on MLK Day. When one of the protesters, Jonathan B. Glenn, the assistant director of Multicultural Academic Student Services, came back as a graduate student in 2009, he said the week of events was “already in place.”

“It’s great being back in 2017 seeing the fruit of the students labor back in 2004,” Glenn said. “Now students have the chance to have this day off and go to programming to learn about Martin Luther King. It was awesome seeing (2004 President Michael Rao) listen to the students. He stopped whatever he was doing to come out and talk to us.”

The university closed Jan. 16 in recognition of MLK Day. Events included a Community Peace Brunch in Finch Fieldhouse, volunteer opportunities in the Bovee University Center and the annual Peace March and Vigil. MASS has planned additional events throughout the week, ending with a staff charity basketball game.

In the past, a Unity Ball was held in remembrance of Martin Luther King, but due to limited budget issues, it was not held this year.

“One thing we are learning is we can’t be predictable,” Glenn said. “(We are trying to) get different types of speakers, different types of programs. That’s why we are showing a documentary this year, with ‘Selma.’ Or maybe we will realize that in two years the basketball game has reached it’s point and it’s time to do something else.”

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