On January 17, the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha held the 32nd annual candlelight vigil in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The vigil, held in Alice Millar Chapel, was filled with prayer, motivational speeches of remembrance, and chill-inducing musical pieces.
Over 150 people attended the event, the last of a weekend filled with programming to honor Dr. King and remind the community of his dreams. There were various musical performances by the Alice Millar Chapel Choir, the Northwestern Community Ensemble, and a cappella group Soul 4 Real. Reverent pieces such as “The Storm is Over Now” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” were done beautifully.
In between the performances, people reflected on Dr. King’s life and legacy. Alpha President Tajudeen Sanusi made the point that since Dr. King was a regular person, anyone has the potential to have a long-lasting impact. Provost Daniel Linzer told the audience that Northwestern students in particular have the capacity to change the world because of Northwestern’s many opportunities.
Keynote speaker Cheryle R. Jackson, a Northwestern alumna and the first female president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, gave a humorous and inspirational speech. She warmed the audience up by speaking of how she and her then boyfriend, now husband “must have broken up a million times on Sheridan Road.” After giving some background about her time at Northwestern, she went on to describe what made Dr. King so influential to her: his youth. He had a PhD by the time he was 25 and was only 39 when he was killed. Jackson also referenced other prominent people who did impressive things in their youth, such as Princess Diana and the late Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s first and only female prime minister. Jackson told the young people in the audience to recognize the power that is inherent in having a lifetime ahead of them. She encouraged them to “boldly challenge the status quo, because the status quo does not own [them] yet.”
Later, in an interview, Jackson stressed this point. “I want students and young people to know this is not a job to put off for when they’re older and more accomplished. When you’re older, you don’t have the luxury of driving radical change.”
At the end of the event, Alphas walked down the aisle, lighting audience members’ candles. At this time, Alpha Ikechukwu Nnoli told the audience about the Alphas’ efforts to help those affected by the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and a donation basket went around. After a short prayer, the Alphas held a reception in Parkes Hall, where Cheryle Jackson and Dean Burgwell Howard mingled with students.
It can be easy for college students who are swamped in work to view Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as just a day off of school. The vigil was a reminder that although much has happened since Dr. King was alive, a lot still needs to be changed. Most importantly, the vigil emphasized that youth is an advantage, not a drawback, when trying to change the world.