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Northwestern reflects on Dr. King’s ‘Beloved Community’ at annual Candlelight Vigil

Community members, students, faculty and staff filed into Northwestern University’s Alice Millar Chapel for the 41st annual Candlelight Vigil hosted by the Alpha Mu Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and Northwestern’s MLK Committee.

The solemn yet uplifting gathering honored the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday with poetry, song and passages from interfaith texts including the Quran, Torah and Bible celebrating strength in diversity.

The panel discussion “Dr. King’s ‘Beloved Community’: Where Are We Now?” featured community activists Karen Pittinger (StreetWise), David Robinson (Manufacturing Renaissance) and Mark Saint (Crime Lab). The panel was moderated by educator and activist Alice Palmer (PhD ’79), who during her tenure as Northwestern’s associate dean and director of African American student affairs, assisted in the founding of the first Candlelight Vigil and the student gospel choir the Northwestern Community Ensemble.

Palmer opened the panel with personal memories of what segregated life was like in the 1950s. She recalled being bussed across town to an elementary school because the school across the street was a white school, of having to sit in the balcony in segregated movie theaters, and a vacation to Nashville where she and her family had to sleep on pool tables in a billiards hall because they arrived too late to check into black overnight accommodations.

“Black Americans, in spite of all that, are still here,” Palmer said. Referencing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, she said, “LBJ did not just decide to pass this law. It took a mighty roar and collective effort to pass it.”

The panelists discussed how their nonprofit work furthered King’s dream of the beloved community, by addressing homelessness, job creation and preventing workplace discrimination.

Saint challenged the audience to ask themselves: “How will you do your work in a way that inspires, makes an impact and stands on the shoulders of the giants before you?”

The full schedule of commemoration events is available on the Northwestern MLK Dream Week website.