Commemorative Program celebrates King's legacy

Radford University student Amber Hairston sings with the audience "Lift Every Voice" during the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program.

The many talents of Radford University's students, faculty, staff and distinguished guests took center stage on Jan. 17 to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Hundreds attended the university's Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Program, titled "Together We are the Change." The annual event, open to the general public, unites the community for an evening of reflection on the influential civil rights activist, minister, mentor and steadfast advocate of freedom, peace and service.

Master and Mistress of Ceremony, students Nehemiah Bester and Jacinda Jones, spoke of King's legacy, from the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott to the 1963 March on Washington.

"Truly, he was the king in every sense of the word," Bester said.

A tribute video, created by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, highlighted many of King's infamous speeches, as well as the work of Radford University volunteers during the Jan. 16 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. More than 400 students, faculty and staff participated in the effort that sent them across the New River and Roanoke valleys.

Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill recognized those volunteers and thanked them for their unwavering service.

"Our students, faculty and staff unselfishly wove the fabric of community tighter using strands of kindness," Hemphill said. "In the spirit of Dr. King, our community implemented his rich vision by serving our neighbors. The commitment by the Radford University family to its neighbors is steadfast."

Amber Hairston led the audience in an incredible rendition of "Lift Every Voice" and a solo performance of "Indescribable." Nia Naomi Johnson performed an inspirational spoken word piece.

Interim Vice President for Student Affairs Irvin Clark commended King's "respect for all people."

"Regardless of their race, regardless of their color, socio-economic status, gender or any circumstance that would lead to bigotry and oppression," Clark continued.


Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill joins keynote speaker Roland Martin on stage as the journalist captures a video of the audience behind him.

Mr. Freshman, Jaylen Frazier, and Miss Freshman, Asia Smith, who earned their titles during the 2016 Homecoming celebration, introduced keynote speaker Roland Martin.

Martin, who has earned more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence, is the host and managing editor of TV One's NewsOne Now, the first daily morning news program in history to focus on news and analysis of politics, entertainment, sports and culture from an explicitly African American perspective. Martin was also a member of the CNN political team that was awarded the Peabody Award for its coverage of the 2008 election.

Martin's motivational message was a call to action.

He encouraged the audience to remember those who joined King in his fight for freedom.

"Although we focus just on Martin Luther King Jr. on this day, we should be using this day to remember others who were involved in the movement," Martin said. "All of those individuals played a role in terms of how we got to this particular place.  When we leave them out and focus solely on one individual, then what happens is we are reinforcing this idea that we require one person to lead us in order to create change, when in fact it requires a plethora of people to do so."

Martin recalled that King was just 25 years old when he arrived in Montgomery, Alabama. He was a new pastor and just newly-married. Despite those circumstances, he answered the call to serve, Martin said.

"The challenge is to decide when you leave here tonight, what are you going to do?" Martin said. "Are you going to be silent and watch the game from the sidelines? Or are you going to get in the game?"

To watch Martin's full presentation and the entire Commemorative Program, visit

The program and this year's Martin Luther King Jr. activities were sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Diversity Awareness Programming Board, Scholar-Citizen Initiative, McConnell Library and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated.



Keynote speaker Roland Martin is the host and managing editor of TV One's NewsOne Now.

Jan 19, 2017
Mary Hardbarger