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Program to commemorate 50th anniversary of March on Washington

August 28 will mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a key event in the Civil Rights Movement during which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic "I Have a Dream" speech.

Ohio University will commemorate this profound moment in our nation's history with an event designed not only to celebrate the civil rights demonstration that occurred 50 years ago but to challenge ourselves to examine what the messages delivered on that day mean today.

A collaboration among the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, University College, Residential Housing, the College of Fine Arts, the School of Music and the Campus Involvement Center, the event will be held from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28, at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. It is free and open to the public.

The program will include images, recordings and video meant to capture the spirit of the March on Washington, and music at the event will be provided by Sharell Arocho, Scott Ewing, and Bruce and Gay Dalzell.

The event will also feature reflections from both those who attended – in the words of Dr. King – "the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation" and those who did not but for whom the messages delivered that day have remained a driving force in their lives.

"I really wanted to be involved in this program mainly because of what the March on Washington means in general," said Winsome Chunnu-Brayda, associate director of OHIO's Multicultural Programs/Multicultural Center who sits on the committee organizing the program. "This is a march that happened way before my time, but the messages coming out of that march – living together, fighting injustice in all corners of society – still resonate today."

Among the speakers who will be featured during the program is Francine Childs, professor emerita in the Department of African American Studies and a longtime advocate for social justice and equality who met Dr. King in 1956. Joining Childs will be:

  • Larry Griffin, founder and director of Capriccio Vocal Ensemble in Columbus who will narrate a group reading of the "I Have a Dream" speech during the event
  • Derrick Holifield, an OHIO student known for writing and performing poetry who is president of Alpha Phi Alpha (the fraternity that Dr. King belonged to)
  • Akil Houston, an assistant professor in the Department of African American Studies
  • Andrew Kreutzer, an associate professor in the Sports Administration and Facility Management Program
  • Local residents Peggy Gish, Jan Griesinger, and Arlene and Bob Sheak, all of whom will be attending March on Washington anniversary events in Washington, D.C., this coming weekend
  • Peter Jarjisian, a professor in the School of Music

Jarjisian is among those individuals organizing the event.

"As we're developing this commemoration, everyone on our committee has said we want those at the program to leave the event asking themselves, 'What next? What now?'" Jarjisian explained. "People may know the facts surrounding the March on Washington, but they may not necessarily know the emotions that led up to that day. What motivated these people to take time off work? To invest the money to travel to our nation's capital? … What would lead us today to make that extraordinary effort?"

"Residential Housing wanted to support this event because one of our departmental values is diversity and diversity education," said Judy Piercy, former associate director of Residential Housing who was recently appointed interim ombudsperson.

Piercy explained that Residential Housing is encouraging resident assistants to attend the program with their residents and to discuss afterward how the March on Washington is relevant today.

Many of the first-year students enrolled in the University's nearly 200 learning communities also will be attending the program as one of their out-of-class activities.

According to Wendy Merb-Brown, director of the learning community programs at University College, OHIO's learning community leaders, upperclassmen who serve as peer mentors to first-year students, will be taking their students to the program. Those learning community leaders will discuss the program and the March on Washington prior to attending the event. After participating in the program, the learning community leaders will engage their students in a discussion about the impact of the event – either immediately following the event or in their next seminar.

"What I hope our students take away from this program is that people make a difference and a person's voice makes a difference and that they have a voice," Merb-Brown said. "I want students to know that if they see something that is happening or if they feel passionately about an issue, their voice matters."

"I think sometimes there's a tendency to forget what has happened in the past because we've come a long way," Chunnu-Brayda said, "but if we truly look at our society, there are still in many, many facets of our society deeply embedded injustices. As an institution committed to diversity in its broadest sense, we want to bring together our students to help them understand what our values are as an institution, to reflect on what happened then and what is happening now, and to see how it all relates to our contemporary social movements, not just in the United States but around the world."