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Rhetoric Becomes Reality at Birthday Celebration for Martin Luther King Jr.

Rhetoric Becomes Reality at Birthday Celebration for Martin Luther King Jr.

UC Riverside’s annual candlelight vigil will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15 at the carillon tower, just five days before the nation inaugurates its first African-American president.

(January 8, 2009)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — With this month’s inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, UC Riverside’s annual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. takes on a new character. It starts at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15 at the UCR Bell Tower and continues with speakers and performances inside Watkins 1000.

Speakers at the event will include Turhan Davis from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Daniel Walker, a UCR historian, as well as a performance by the gospel choir from Cal State San Bernardino and dancer Kimberlee Benton.

But the inauguration of Barack Obama coming up on Jan. 20 will give the celebration a different feel, said Jason Elliott, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering at UCR and the organizer of this year’s celebration at the bell tower.

“Martin Luther King was true to his word,” Elliott said. “We will be retracing the history that led to Obama’s success.”

The famous quote about a day when children would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, was a hopeful rhetorical flourish when King said it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.

“It was hopeful and it kept people’s heads afloat,” said Elliott, who was not born until 23 years later. “But now people are finally seeing results for their hard work. Now we can see that it was not only a hope in the eyes of Dr. Martin Luther King, but somewhat of a prophecy.”

UC Riverside faculty members have been quoted in the media about the historical nature of the inauguration. Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of religious studies, told The New York Times that the election of an African American president makes discussing race even more important.

“The language of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks was in a segregated world,” he said in a story published recently. “We’re now almost two generations removed from segregation. Does that language speak to the mortgage crisis, poor public schools, the prison-industrial complex? And in all those areas, many of the faces our people encounter on a daily basis look like us. When we’re talking about race now, we have to talk about it in a very complicated way.”

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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