CSU, Fort Collins and others host virtual MLK Day celebrations

Isaiah Dennings

Attendees of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day march hold signs before walking from the Old Town Square to the Lory Student Center. (Matt Tackett | The Collegian)

Colorado State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration opened with a powerful performance from Melissa Edwards, associate director for the Office of Undergraduate Research and Artistry.

Edwards sung a “Black Medley” composed of portions of three songs: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem, Edwards said.

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The celebration was completely virtual this year, replacing the typical march from Old Town to The Oval.  The celebration was still a citywide effort put together by CSU, the Poudre School District and the City of Fort Collins, along with other contributors, said Bridgette Johnson, the Managing Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Student Success, in her opening statements.

 Johnson introduced the theme for this year’s celebration as a question that King tried to answer in his 1967 book of the same name: “Where do we go from here?”

With the COVID-19 pandemic exasperating racial tensions and disparities, the theme is more pertinent than ever, Johnson said. 

“So we ask ‘where will you go from here?’ during this magnified time of civil unrest,” Johnson said.  

CSU President Joyce McConnell expressed how strange it feels to not celebrate in person but how CSU will continue to be the epicenter of change and progress within Fort Collins.  

“King called on our public institutions, like this one, to make good on the promise of our nation and democracy,” McConnell said.

McConnell recounted how the pandemic has claimed the lives of many and the killing and wounding of countless Black lives has added to that pain, but CSU students continue to pave a path forward from these hardships.

“Our students convened a peaceful protest in response to the racial injustice they experience in our country and our community,” McConnell said. “I am standing not far from where they plugged in huge speakers and played Dr. King’s own words and from where one of our faculty members called for not just allies but accomplices in the fight against racism in our country.” 

Despite not being able to come together in person and reconvene at The Oval, CSU continues to uphold the principles that King stood for, McConnell said. 

The tragic events in our nation and in our communities of color serve as a sobering reminder of all the work we have ahead of us to truly build a beloved and better community for all.”-Wade Troxell, mayor of Fort Collins 

“When I walk down these steps, I walk out onto the campus of CSU,” McConnell said. “I can go in any direction from here. But no matter which way I go, my path will take me to a space where our students, faculty and staff gathered to ask hard questions to solve problems to change things for the better.” 

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McConnell put the words of King into context with CSU and the Fort Collins community, explaining how we need to take the path forward together and trust one another. Everyone at CSU strives for greatness and people cannot move forward alone and cannot look back, McConnell said.

“King cautioned us that if we are truly to be a free country, we must acknowledge that the destinies of our people of all races and religions and backgrounds are inextricably bound together,” McConnell said.

McConnell ended her speech by highlighting the need for community, especially in a time when we are so separated because of the pandemic. 

“So, where do we go from here?” McConnell asked. “ We go forward together as Dr. King urged us to do, trusting that, so long as we are on a shared path as a community, we will never lose sight of where we need to go.”

Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell spoke on how important it was to remember and honor the principles that King stood for, including social justice, solidarity, unity and community. 

“We must continue to uphold Dr. King’s vision and continue the collective work to build a stronger community, a stronger Fort Collins,” Troxell said. “The tragic events in our nation and in our communities of color serve as a sobering reminder of all the work we have ahead of us to truly build a beloved and better community for all.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made racial injustices and disparities within Fort Collins more visible and demonstrates the need for communities to come together, Troxell said. 

“Due to oppression and injustice, communities of color continue to bear the disproportionate weight of this crisis,” Troxell said. “For example, in every county, our Hispanic community is experiencing a rate of (COVID-19) infection that is 7 1/2 times more than the white community.” 

Troxell summarized the main mission that the City of Fort Collins has to implement a more diverse and equitable community. 

“This is one of the priorities that we have as city leaders in Fort Collins is to co-create a community around equity and diversity and inclusion,” Troxell said. “Let us celebrate and let us live up to the incredible legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” 

The celebration was concluded by creative performances from students at CSU, including a modern dance performance by Shayleen Moses. 

The final performance was powerful spoken word poetry and song performed by Jasmine Retland, a CSU student who highlighted the struggles of being a Black woman in America. 

“For me, MLK’s dream was not just a dream but a destiny, a promise that I chose to make a reality,” Retland said. 

For more information and to get involved, visit the Lory Student Center’s information page on MLK Day.

Isaiah Dennings can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @isaiah_dennings.