MLK program brings powerful message to RU audience


Author, activist and educator Dr. Steve Perry was the keynote speaker at the MLK 2015 Celebration.

A powerful message of peace and perseverance was delivered by many influential figures on Jan. 21 during Radford University's 2015 MLK Commemorative Program.

More than 250 students, faculty and staff gathered in Bondurant Auditorium where the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were reflected in photographs, song, dance and the words of author, educator and activist Dr. Steve Perry, university President Penelope W. Kyle and several other RU representatives.

Titled "Building a Legacy: Past, Present, Future," the program began with a video and slideshow tribute to King. Dynamic performances followed by RU's own Amber Hairston and William Fleming High School's Colonel Step Team.

Dean of Students Irvin Clark and RU NAACP Chapter President Ashly Poindexter addressed the crowd, followed by President Kyle.

"The first week of this spring semester is devoted to learning about, celebrating and fulfilling Dr. King's legacy and vision," President Kyle said.

Early in her presidency, Kyle advocated for changing the university's schedule to acknowledge King. Where before, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed as a routine day of classes, the day is now observed as a holiday. That effort resulted in this year's second annual MLK Day of Service in which 134 members of the RU community volunteered throughout the New River Valley and beyond.


(from left): Natalie Fajardo, Crasha Townsend, Christian Walker, Skye Heasley, Dr. Steve Perry, Amber Hairston, Dr. Irvin Clark, Tasia Persson

Additionally, during Kyle's tenure, RU's total undergraduate minority enrollment has increased from 11 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2014.

"Radford University has aspirations to be an inclusive community where we all feel valued, and where we all are treated with respect," Kyle said. "Today and every day, we are committed to promoting, teaching and living the principles that Dr. King set forth, and we strive to fulfill his charge to us through service."

Keynote speaker Perry rallied the student audience to seek purpose and meaning in life, just as King did as a young man.

"It's easy to forget that he was only 39 when he was murdered," Perry said. "He found something worth dying for. He found his purpose."

Perry's passion, he said, is helping more children have access to good schools.

"For me, that is a fight worth fighting," Perry said.

Perry is the founder and principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut. He is also an education contributor to CNN and MSNBC, and his most recent book is "Push Has Come to Shove: Getting Our Kids the Education They Deserve­ – Even If It Means Picking a Fight."


Radford University student Amber Hairston performs "I Can Only Imagine."

Perry stressed the importance of an education and encouraged students to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them at Radford. He also urged them to explore their talents to "use for the greater good."

"Find a way to make a contribution to your community," Perry said. "You don't have to lead a march or a hashtag, but you have to make an impact. Do something that's going to change lives. And then and only then will your life really start to matter."

Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion Crasha Townsend concluded the celebration followed by a Q&A session with Perry, who fielded questions from the audience.

The event was sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, McConnell Library, the Office of the Provost, R-SPaCE, Diversity Awareness Programming, Scholar-Citizen Initiative, RU Chapter of the NAACP and Men of Standards.

Jan 27, 2015