MLK Day holds special meaning for students

The Martin Luther King Jr. Program, offered through the College of Liberal Arts, is one of nine student communities available through CLA.

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Not until 2000 did every U.S. state recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal paid holiday, but since 1968 a University of Minnesota program has championed the civil rights leaderâÄôs name and ideals. The Martin Luther King Jr. Program, offered through the College of Liberal Arts, is one of nine student communities available through CLA, and for many students offers exactly that âÄî a community. For Thomas Toley, a senior communications major in the program and president of the historically black Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the UniversityâÄôs program are important to recognize. âÄúThe program is about what Martin Luther King Jr. Day stands for: meeting other people and connecting with other people, because they are people, and nothing else,âÄù Toley said. Like the eight other CLA student communities, the MLK Jr. Program offers advising and career support for undergraduate students. However, the MLK Jr. Program differs from others by offering support to a diverse and multicultural student community. Keith Mayes, professor of African American and African studies, specializes in the civil rights and black power movements. He said the values of Martin Luther King Jr. are tied to the fundamentals of the U.S. Constitution. âÄúHe kind of has to be seen and remembered as part of our history and time when we began to include other voices in our politics,âÄù Mayes said. The program also offers first-year students a mentor who has been through the program. Krystal Bradford, a journalism major who has participated in the MLK Jr. Program for four years, found a support system through the program after coming to the University from St. Louis, Mo. She now serves as a mentor. âÄúItâÄôs not only hard to adjust to a new school,âÄù Bradford said, âÄúbut especially for students not seeing others who look like them.âÄù Bradford has helped three first-year students navigate college life by doing things like introducing them to the diverse student groups on the Coffman Union third floor and bringing them to an etiquette dinner. âÄúThere is an emphasis on whatever you take from this program you need to give back,âÄù Bradford said. The friendly feel of the programâÄôs Johnston Hall location seems more like the television sitcom âÄúCheersâÄù than an advising office, Toley and Bradford both said. âÄúWhere everybody knows your name,âÄù said the students, reciting the showâÄôs theme song lyrics. For Toley, his life has recently been redefined after being inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.âÄôs words: âÄúA man who wonâÄôt die for something is not fit to live,âÄù he said. âÄúIâÄôm not doing things for what other people expect me to do,âÄù Toley said, âÄúbut rather living for what I believe in.âÄù