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Xavier Hosts MLK Week For Peace

  NEW ORLEANS - When the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday  was first observed in 1986, local university officials from Xavier and Tulane Universities came together to present the first Martin Luther King Week for Peace commemoration.

  Carolyn Barber-Pierre, then director of Multicultural Affairs at Tulane, was on the committee. Twenty-five years later Pierre is now assistant vice president for student affairs at Tulane and she is still one of the main organizers for the event, which now also includes Dillard and Loyola universities.

  In this 25th anniversary year, the four universities will once again celebrate the annual MLK Week for Peace, January 17-2, 2011.  Poet and activist Nikki Giovanni  will be the guest speaker and trailblazer Ruby Bridges  will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

  “We started right after the national holiday was created because we believed this holiday was not just another day off, but a “day on” to reflect, commemorate and to celebrate Dr. King’s teaching, his vision, and dream,” said Barber-Pierre. “Dr Francis (Xavier’s president) and Dr. Kelly (Tulane’s president) both supported that idea then.

  “We continue to do it because there is still work to be done in our communities. We have to challenge our students to become good community servants, and to give back for all the opportunities they’ve been given with a college education.  We have to stimulate the minds of those who may not have lived during Dr. King’s time and share with them what the importance of his life meant, not only to black people to humanity,” she said.

  Joseph Byrd, dean of students in 1987 and currently vice president for student services at Xavier was also on the committee in the early years. “It was a coming together of the universities to celebrate the legacy of Dr. King,” he said. It wasn’t a Black thing or a White thing, it was a university thing and universal.”

  “It’s been exciting to be a part of the Week for Peace for so long and  to see it grow, said Byrd. I am excited to also be a part of this celebration at a national level as this year Alpha Phi Alpha will unveil the MLK memorial in Washington DC.” 

  In 1992 the group began presenting the Community Lifetime Achievement award. Recipients have included Rev. Avery Alexander, Rosa Keller, artist John Scott, Dr. Lolis Eli and others. In addition each year a student from each university is selected and honored for their community service.

  This year’s Lifetime Achievement award recipient is Ruby Bridges. Bridges was the face of desegregation in New Orleans Public Schools, the first African American student at William Frantz Elementary . Her historic civil rights move was the subject of a well known Norman Rockwell painting titled “The problem we all live with.” She is now chair of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she formed in 1999 to promote "the values of tolerance, respect, and appreciation of all differences". Describing the mission of the group, she said, "racism is a grown-up disease and we must stop using our children to spread it."

  Bridges' childhood struggle at William Frantz Elementary School was portrayed in the 1998 made-for-TV movie Ruby Bridges, and was most recently in the news for the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the New Orleans Public School System.  She has received numerous awards including in 2001 the Presidential Citizens Medal from then President Bill Clinton. 

  In addition to several books written about her and her experiences, Bridges published her own book , Through My Eyes. Week for Peace committee members have come and gone over the years, but each year the committee has organized different events and approaches to celebrating the week, from panel discussions with community members, college students and even high school students,  to movie showings, theatre productions, commemorative marches, and  ecumenical services. This year’s Stepping for a Dream

Step-Off Contest is a charity event with the winning team getting a cash donation for their favorite charity.

  A guest speaker has always been a standard part of the Week’s celebration and those guests have ranged from veterans who were on the forefront of the Civil Rights movement to contemporary voices in the ongoing struggles, and educators. Those speakers have included such names as Fred Shuttlesworth, Juan Williams, Bernice King, Cornell West, Tavis Smiley, Jesse Jackson, Merlie Evers-Williams, Randall Robinson and Kweisi Mfume.

  Barber-Pierre and Byrd both agree that it’s important that the universities continue to come together to celebrate.  “We continue to celebrate because we feel that until there is equality and we rid some of the social ills in our community, we need to keep vigilant about where our eyes should be,” said Barber-Pierre. “In New Orleans, even five years out from Katrina, we’re still struggling in education, in providing community services to our populations and addressing other economic, environmental and health issues.”





2011 Martin Luther King Week for Peace 

Unity + Diversity = Universities for the Dream

Monday, January 17, 2011- Community Service Day- ‘A Day On Not a Day Off’-

Xavier University, University Center 8am-3pm



Wednesday, January 19, 2011- Convocation-with guest speaker Nikki Giovanni- 

Loyola University, Danna Center @6:00pm

            Reception prior to convocation @ 5:00pm

Thursday, January 20, 2011- Expressions of Unity-

Dillard University, Cook Theatre @ 7pm

Friday, January 21, 2011- Step Off-

Tulane University @7pm



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