Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that only love can drive out hate, and this year’s celebration at Bethel College of the annual holiday honoring King will emphasize love.
Peace activist Ken Nwadike Jr., probably best known as the Free Hugs Guy, will be the special guest on campus that day and the featured speaker at 7 p.m. Jan. 15 in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.
The program is free and open to everyone.
Members of the 2018 planning committee are Ahmed Fall, freshman from Staten Island, New York, Jalal Gondal, sophomore from Noble, Oklahoma, Akiyaa Hagen-Depusoir, sophomore from Salina, Katrina Heinrichs, sophomore from Hesston, Maurice Jordan, junior from Antelope, California, and Kyla Williams, freshman from Clinton, Oklahoma, along with Gabriel Fonseca, coordinator of student activities and engagement.
The committee worked together to come up with a description of the celebration theme, “(Re)Inspire the Dream.”
The program will include original and selected poetry on the theme, read by Bethel students Kimberly Carbonell, senior from Wichita, Vivian Gonzalez, junior from Converse, Texas, Ahmed Fall, Lyric Martin, junior from Hutchinson, Bethany Montoya, junior from Wilmer, Texas, and JDaijon Sumpter, junior from Bonsall, California.
Speaker Ken Nwadike Jr. started the Free Hugs Project after viewing what he called “the devastation” of the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
He was determined to participate in the 2014 race but failed to qualify by just 23 seconds. So he decided to attend the event in a different way.
He provided free hugs as encouragement to runners along the route – an act that made national news headlines while it also seemed to lift runners’ spirits judging by the smiles they gave Nwadike in response.
Since then, Nwadike has used his Free Hugs Campaign in efforts at peacekeeping and de-escalation of violence during protests, riots and political rallies. He was featured in Google’s 2016 “Year in Search” video as a highlight among the year’s defining moments, and has appeared multiple times on broadcast and online news programs from the New York Times, CNN, NBC, the BBC, the Huffington Post, USA Today, Buzzfeed and many more.
As in past years at Bethel’s Martin Luther King Jr. evening program, a freewill offering will be taken – however, it will be designated in a new way.
“We are now starting a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Scholarship,” Fonseca said, “and the offering will go to help fund that.” (This was intended to begin with the 2017 program, which had to be cancelled because of bad weather.)
The scholarship will be given to a freshman or sophomore from a minority background, and the recipient will help lead planning for next year’s MLK Day program and also for other diversity events in that school year.
The MLK Day Planning Committee will pick the recipient – the 2017 planners initiated the scholarship idea as a way to make more of an impact on campus with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.