Students and community members alike gathered to celebrate, honor and remember the mission and life of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. in Dimnent Chapel. For several years, Hope College has used the memorial day as a dedication of continuing his mission through normal class schedules and an evening lecturer.
This year’s national holiday marked the 35th MLK day and the 49th year since his assignation in 1983. The Rev. Carolyn Maull McKinstry, this year’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Lecturer, is a survivor of the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church.
The evening began with a warm greeting from President Dennis Voskuil and a greeting from Shawn Perdue, a financial analyst at Herman Miller, a co- sponsor of the event. Perdue explained that when we began to seek ways to tie efforts for increased supported diversity at Herman Miller to the efforts at Hope, the Dr. King Civil Rights Lecture Series was held in a small, barely filled class room. This year, Dimnet Chapel glowed with the radiance of a packed house. Vanessa Green, the associate dean of students and Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Hope, gave an overview of the events for the night which included a praise dance by Curissa Sutherland Smith (’18), a song by Kesline Senesca (’21), an introduction by Julian Lugo (’20) and closing remarks by Student Congress Vice President Lydia Berkey (’19). In a recent interview, Berkey explained that as Student Congress vice president, she wants to encourage students to speak out against racially ignorant comments and be more intentional about inclusion and education in order to make Hope a more welcoming place for the future. McKinstry spoke about the bombing, her journey to becoming the fighter of forgiveness and reconciliation she is today and the message Dr. King leaves with society to continue today.
She explained in detail that morning of Sept. 15, 1963, when she was working as a secretary for 16th St. Baptist Church’s Sunday School.
At approximately 10:22 a.m., McKinstry, 14 years old at the time, answered the phone to a member of the Klu Klux Klan giving her a three minute warning for the bomb.
Before she was able to act, the bomb exploded destroying much of the church and ending the lives of four young girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.
Following the horrendous event, McKinstry continued to work within the Civil Rights movement alongside Dr. King and the community of Birmingham. However, as she explained in her lecture, the internal damage of the hatred she witnessed left her suffering from depression for 20 years.
Despite her hardships, McKinstry has since dedicated her life to preaching the messages of forgiveness and reconciliation and continuing to spread Dr. King’s message of nonviolent and intentionally Christian action.
She concluded by using a famous Dr. King quote to ask the audience, “How can we love God and hate our neighbor?”
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