Covenant students and faculty celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a new fashion this year and combined it with Day of Prayer.
The schedule for the day included four parts: a sunrise prayer service at Rock City, a panel discussion on race and the African American experience, service projects with Project52, and finally a jazz celebration, which included a meditation by Rev. Irwin Ince.
In Covenant’s past, classes were held on MLK Day. The college’s intent in holding classes on the holiday was to celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by being diligent in study and work. Furthermore, the fear of MLK Day becoming merely an idle day off negated the reflective nature of the holiday, which the college seeks to promote.
This year, for the first time, the holiday was combined with Day of Prayer. Day of Prayer is an event which occurs bi-annually (once in the fall, once in the spring) as a day of respite and meditation for the upcoming semester.
Though the decision to combine the days was extremely practical, it exemplified increasing and ongoing conversations about race on Covenant’s campus. Such dialogue was prompted within the student body throughout the events of the day.
The sunrise service was held at 7 a.m. and featured worship, led by Will Bryan, and designated time for prayer in groups. The fulcrum of the event, however, was King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.” This was intended to introduce the locus of meditation for today amidst a setting of worship.
At 11 a.m., students gathered in the chapel to hear from some of Covenant’s own students about being an African American in the modern context.
The panel featured three students: Erik Peeples (‘20), Nyra Johnson (‘18), and Berto Dryden (‘19). Questions ranged from white privilege, to growing up as African Americans, to Donald Trump, and to future growth in conversations of race.
At the end of the panel, Peeples said, “...if you all, my white brothers and sisters, take heart to what we've been saying, to what MLK was saying, to what Jesus said on the cross two-thousand years ago, the reality for me and my children won't have to be scary.”
The events of the day continued at 1:30, as students gathered for service projects with Project 52, a local home repair ministry. The chapel department set a goal for two hundred and fifty students and faculty to participate in the service project. In excess of three hundred students and faculty were present on MLK Day, surpassing expectations by almost one hundred individuals.
The celebrations of MLK Day were capped by a jazz event in the great hall at 9 p.m. The event featured live jazz music from Covenant’s jazz band, directed by James Ward. Students read excerpts from King’s various speeches, and Rev. Irwin Ince gave a meditation on race in America.
In his meditation, titled “In the Headlights of History,” Rev. Ince spoke on the importance of having wisdom in historical bearings in order to fruitfully grow in the future.
The jazz celebration was a popular one, attracting an estimated three hundred and sixty-one students throughout the evening.
Nabil Ince (‘18), who performs under the name Seaux Chill, played piano for the jazz band at the event.
Concerning the event which featured a meditation by his father, Ince said, “The words my father gave about ‘having some sense on the highway of history’ were fitting for the institution that is Covenant College. At Covenant I believe this starts with being aware of the ways elitism and classism is perpetuated even here. Collectively and individually, people on all levels of this institution will benefit from brutally honest reflection and dialogue.”
The schedule of the day was intentional, said Chaplain Lowe, who, among others, headed the organization of the day. The flow of the day by each event was praise, followed by education, followed by service, and ending in celebration.
The sunrise service brought students together to worship and introduce direction for meditation with King’s speech. The panel was meant to educate Covenant’s community on the experience of African Americans in the modern context. The service projects accomplished a building of community and growth in a collective sense. Finally, the jazz event served to celebrate the work being done, and encourage individuals and the campus as a whole to continue striving towards reconciliation.
The schedule intentionally created experiences and provided responses to them. In this way, the day as a whole reflected the work and pattern of the Christian life.
The events of MLK Day exemplified growing awareness in Covenant’s community concerning race issues in America and in the church. Yet, as the students in the panel expressed, there is still much work to be done. Growth will continue as the Covenant community engages in these discussions in the future.
Reflecting on the day, Nabil Ince said, “...if you are privileged here at Covenant, be encouraged to close your mouth and listen, and if you are on the outskirts of ‘society’ here at Cov, be empowered to speak up and affirm your humanity.”
It is unclear whether MLK Day will continue to be hosted on Day of Prayer in the future. Though the combination of the two was not meant to be permanent, the success of this most recent MLK day may permanently marry the two.