To celebrate the birthday of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., about 100 students, faculty, and staff gathered for the annual MLK Community Dinner, sponsored by the Days-Massolo Center on Jan. 15.

Immediately upon entering the dining space, individuals were greeted with the scent of delicious food, tables covered in elegant decorations, and warm smiles from other guests and community members—including Director of Opportunity Programs Phyllis Breland ’80, who led and emceed the event.

After a brief introduction by Breland, President David Wippman spoke on the powerful actions of King and his ability to inspire, even dozens of years after his incredible work in social activism. With King’s vision of maintaining an equal and just society in mind, Wippman said, “We’re all part of this broader community, and our responsibility is to work for justice—whether it’s at Hamilton, or in the state of New York, or in the country at large, or in the world.”

Chaplain Jeff McArn spoke about the power that King’s actions had even in adverse times of injustice. To commemorate King’s role as an inspiring figure, McArn asked that even with the different traditions and backgrounds of those in the room, everyone “pray to the god that Martin Luther King Jr. prayed” and continue his hope for community.

“Stand up for justice, and truth, and love,” McArn prayed. “May that power speak to us as a community committed to the value of welcoming each other across our differences into a unified life here on this Hill.”

Dinner was then served family-style, where a few guests at each table would grab dishes of food to bring back for those sitting with them. Breland explained, “There’s a great art and a connection that happens when we pass dishes to each other, where we might have an occasionally touch or glance.” She encouraged everyone to enjoy the food that made up King’s favorite kind of meal, including fried chicken made “with love” by Breland herself.

While eating, guests followed the theme of the event by discussing the question: “What is Your Dream for Hamilton?” Reading quotes said by King himself, which were in packets left on each table, group leaders initiated the conversation on how Hamilton can continuously grow as an inclusive community. Each guest wrote their own ideal dreams for the college on note cards, which will be posted for other campus members to see.

To conclude, Breland reminded the audience that change is not possibly without love and the internal drive to make a difference. “Remember that any change you want, anything you want to see come about it—it begins with you,” she said. ”In order for it to happen, you mustn’t let it; you must be. So let us live that dream.”

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