Campuses across the Washington State University system have planned more than 30 events in recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The events will span several months and feature authors, songwriters, rappers, visual artists and films.

The full list of events can be viewed at the MLK Program website.

The celebration kicks-off with Virtual Bingo for Student Groups on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and concludes with Tongan Visual Artist Robin Fifita on Friday, April 30. Scheduled in between are a wide variety of events including several keynote addresses, beginning with Bree Newsome Bass on Thursday, Jan. 21, at 6 p.m.

Closeup of Bree Newsome Bass
Bree Newsome Bass

Newsome Bass is a filmmaker, musician, and activist from Charlotte, NC. She is best known for her act of civil disobedience on June 27, 2015, when she was arrested for removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina State House grounds in the aftermath of the Charleston shooting. Her speech is co-hosted by WSU’s MLK and Common Reading Programs, along with the support of many units across the WSU system.

The same sponsors have lined-up Harvard scholar Anthony Jack to speak about “The Privileged Poor: How Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students” on Tuesday, Feb. 9.

Ijoema Oluo, a Seattle-based writer who authored New York Times Best-Seller, “So You want to Talk about Race” (2018), and “Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male Power” (2020), will provide a third keynote address on March 29.

Allen Sutton, executive director for the Office for Outreach and Education in the Division of Student Affairs, said the MLK Program, Common Reading Program and Lisa Guerrero, associate vice provost for Inclusive Excellence, plan to create a book club for faculty and staff that will focus on Oluo’s book, “So You Want to Talk About Race”. A book club for students may be established as well.

A systemwide approach

Due to the pandemic, Sutton said the MLK Celebration Planning Committee had to be creative and teaming-up with the Common Reading Program made good sense.

“Together, we felt it is important to involve all WSU campuses to promote the ideals of equity, inclusion and social justice as a united Coug family in light of the national unrest,” Sutton said.

Other virtual events scheduled this month include a lecture and performance by Aisha Fukushima, founder of RAPtivism, a hip-hop project spanning 20 countries and four continents, on Jan. 22. WSU Associate Professor of History Robert Bauman will be part of a panel discussion on Jan. 27 that explores a new book he co-authored called, “Challenging Exclusion and Segregation in the Mid-Columbia Region”, published by WSU Press. On the same day, the WSU Visiting Writers Series will host Ryka Aoki, a transgender woman and Japanese-American poet, composer, teacher, and author of several volumes of poetry.

“Knowing Zoom fatigue is real, we wanted to have many different types of interactive programs and speakers,” Sutton said. “We were very intentional about giving everybody something they can latch onto and enjoy.”

Two new awards

Part of the MLK Celebration every year is recognizing individuals or organizations that demonstrate extraordinary efforts to promote social justice in WSU communities. The recipients of this year’s MLK Distinguished Service Awards will be announced on Feb. 17.

There are two new awards this year. Recipients of the Bayard Rustin Excellence Award, which recognizes activism and advocates for LGBTQ+ communities of color, will be announced on Feb. 25. Winners of the Community, Equity, and Social Justice Inclusive Excellence Award will be announced on March 3.

The MLK Program website will provide updated times, registration information, and Zoom links for all events as they become available.