Stetson’s MLK Day Events Embody Late Leader’s Vision

MLK March 2024

People of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and faiths came together in one spirit with one vision — that of a world where peace and justice reign — as Stetson commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day from Jan. 13-18.

The university worked alongside the MLK DeLand Planning Committee, which kicked off the week with a gala and awards banquet Jan. 13 at the Rinker Field House. Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin spoke at the event, which captivated and electrified everyone as if it were a Sunday gospel service, according to Kevin Winchell, Stetson’s director of Community Engagement. 

Approximately 400 people attended the first-time event, where 13 local community leaders were honored for work to advance justice in the West Volusia community. The co-presidents of Stetson’s newly formed Gospel Choir, Jodi-Ann Taylor and Tyshaun Knight, brought the spirit with their performances of “Life Every Voice and Sing” and “We Shall Overcome.” Proceeds from the gala support the Greater Union Life Center’s scholarship fund for local youth. 

The banquet was followed two days later by the Annual Unity March, which began at DeLand’s Museum of Art and concluded at Earl Brown Park, where a community expo was held. Students, faculty and staff from Stetson, including President Christopher F. Roellke, PhD, marched alongside clergy and community leaders in the milelong procession. 

As they marched, the crowd joined in chants and songs, such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Overcome.” 

“The greatest joy of this event is seeing strong youth participation, which we had this year,” Winchell said. “It was a really successful and beautiful event.”

‘Learn Something or Share Something’

Jan. 16 provided an opportunity for one of Stetson’s “Things We Don’t Talk About At Dinner” events, this one focused on race. The events, cited Winchell, provide an opportunity to learn how to engage in constructive dialogue over a good meal.

“We differentiate during that program between people having debates versus discussions versus dialogues,” Winchell explained. A debate is competitive, whereas “a discussion is informative. You’re trying to learn something or share something. A dialogue is constructive and is trying to solve a problem,” he noted.  

Davion Belk ’16 MBA ’20, Stetson’s deputy chief of Staff and Student Success Advocate, spoke at the gala. Belk is also the interim director for the Office of Diversity & Inclusion.

The goal is to help “students move from debates to discussions and dialogues, so they can wrestle with the most challenging issues facing our community, which is the founding purpose of higher education, especially a liberal arts education at a place like Stetson,” Winchell added.

The MLK Life & Legacy Celebration, hosted by Stetson’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, brought a powerful end to the week’s events. The luncheon featured a panel discussion, spoken word poetry and catered lunch that brought together students, faculty, staff and community members. 

Winchell was proud to see such broad campus and community engagement throughout the week.

“Stetson has been a firm and steadfast partner for the work of the MLK Committee for more than 30 years,” Winchell concluded. “As an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to advance the values of peace, justice and education that are cornerstones of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.”

-Cheri Henderson