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PC Commemorates Martin Luther King’s Contributions, Leadership

Providence, R.I. -- Providence College will honor the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by exploring how his faith motivated his service and leadership through a series of events that start the week of the civil rights activist’s birthday, January 16.

The programs grew organically, starting with a few ideas, said Elena T. Yee, director of the Balfour Office for Multicultural Activities, who spearheaded the effort. Now the events span more than two weeks with the support of academic departments and student groups across campus, such as the Board of Multicultural Student Affairs, the Feinstein Institute for Public Service, Campus Ministry, and Students Organized Against Racism. 

Yee said she initially invited Rev. Kenneth Letoile, O.P. ’70, who has worked in African-American ministry, to discuss how King’s work inspired him. She also asked Pastor James E. Dove of Congdon Street Baptist Church, one of Rhode Island’s oldest historically black churches, to participate.

“People don’t really know MLK as a pastor and as a preacher,” Yee said. But the clergy members’ discussion, to be held on Wednesday, January 25, will focus on the activist’s commitment to religious service and “how that grounded him to be one of the key leaders of the civil rights movement,” Yee said. “It was out of great faith in God that drew him into this.”

Students also will have the opportunity to visit Dove’s church for a service on Sunday, January 29.

Another event will feature a panel of PC alumni who have dedicated several years, or even an entire career, to service in the name of social justice. The goal is to broaden current students’ understanding of ways they could use their gifts, talents, and education to do good after graduation, said Yee.

Students may not realize that King was only 25 when he led his first congregation, she said. “Here is someone who is really just out of college, when you think about it.”

King’s leadership legacy

Another presentation focusing on leadership lessons from King’s life will feature Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, as well as James Vincent, president of Rhode Island’s NAACP chapter. The program is designed to appeal to the budding leaders throughout the College’s student body.

“We know students are on the way” to leadership roles, Yee said. The discussion will address how students can develop these skills and how to put them into practice, taking on leadership roles and serving as models for other students.

The final event, a dinner for the 120 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship recipients at PC, will give them an opportunity to meet and hear from Dr. Francis P. MacKay, a retired chemistry professor who was one of the faculty members who established the scholarship program at PC in 1968 after the activist’s assassination. He will be joined by Dr. Wanda S. Ingram ’75, PC’s senior associate dean of undergraduate studies and a scholarship recipient herself as an undergraduate. 

Yee said she hopes these events will set a positive tone for the new semester.

“It’s a good way to center ourselves on our faith,” she said. “Because of our faith, we would seek out justice for others, and do service.”

Here’s a complete listing of activities:

Wednesday, January 18: A Forum on Service and Vocation: Social Justice, Advocacy and Citizenship. PC alumni, including Kelly Hughes ’11 of Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries, Cap Corps Volunteer and Itinerant Ministry Liaison, Eve Driscoll ’00, who spent a year of service with Covenant House, and Ricky LaBontee’08, a PC graduate hall director who spent three years teaching English in China, will speak about service activities post-graduation, emphasizing active citizenship based on King’s principles of social justice, service, and advocacy. 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., Unity Center, Slavin Center.

Monday, January 23: An Afternoon of Poetry and Prose to Honor the Memory and Spirit of MLK. Faculty, staff, and students will read poetry in styles from traditional to slam. In addition, Kevin Butler, actor and assistant dean of students at Quinsigamond Community College, will recite a King speech. 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Unity Center.

Tuesday, January 24: “What It Takes to Be a Leader …” Lessons from the Life of MLK. Drawing on King’s leadership, speakers, including Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, will discuss their commitment to service and social justice. 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Unity Center.

Wednesday, January 25: MLK as Pastor and Preacher: A Journey of Faith, Service and Justice. Speakers Rev. Kenneth Letoile, O.P. ’70 and Pastor James E. Dove of Congdon Street Baptist Church will discuss how King’s example inspired them.  4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies.

Thursday, January 26: Film Showing and Discussion of The Children’s March. Staff and student leaders from Rhode Island for Community and Justice, a social justice organization, will lead a discussion of excerpts of the film, using a curriculum created by the Southern Poverty Law Center. 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., Unity Center.

Sunday, January 29: Attend Congdon Street Baptist Church service and lunch. 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Wednesday, February 1: A Celebration of the Martin Luther King Scholarship Legacy: Past, Present, and Future.  Founders, as well as current and past recipients of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship Program, will be honored at this dinner. Speakers include Dr. Francis P. MacKay, a retired chemistry professor who was one of the faculty members who established the scholarship program in 1968 after the activist’s assassination, as well as Dr. Wanda S. Ingram ’75, PC’s senior associate dean of undergraduate studies. By invitation only.

In conjunction with the MLK celebration, gently used books can also be dropped off at Slavin 114 through February 1 as part of a book drive for San Miguel School and Sophia Academy, sponsored by BOMA.

For more information about these and other activities honoring King, contact Yee at 401-865-1525 or

--Liz F. Kay


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