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Martin Luther King Jr. celebration to include keynote address by Aminata Cairo

Tying in with Western Carolina University’s 2018-19 campus learning theme “Defining America,” the keynote speaker for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will be discussing “Re-Defining Us in All of Our Richness.”

Aminata Cairo, a lecturer of inclusive education at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands, was born and raised in The Netherlands to Surinamese parents. As an international woman of color, Cairo has experienced firsthand the challenges of diversion and inclusion.

Aminata Cairo

Through her applied anthropological work with students and community organizations, Cairo has continually strived to promote inclusion at both the academic and community levels. In 2013, she received the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award from Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville. And in 2016, she received the Honorary Order of the Palm, a state decoration by the Government of Suriname, for her contribution to culture.

Cairo will speak from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. There will be a meet-and-greet with her after the speech. The event, which is free and open to the public, is a DegreePlus event.

Other MLK celebration events include:

Sunday, Jan. 20– The Queens of WCU and Alpha Phi Alpha invite others to join them in participating in the Women’s March on Asheville. The mission of the Women’s March is to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. The march will begin at 11 a.m. at South Pack Square in downtown Asheville and conclude at MLK Park.

WCU students, faculty and staff participate in last year's MLK Jr. Unity March, which was one of several events taking place in January to celebrate the birthday of the slain civil rights hero. (Photo by WCU student photographer Lindsay Kappius)

Monday, Jan. 21– The annual MLK Jr. Unity March will take place from noon until 2 p.m. The march, which unifies students, faculty, staff and community leaders, will begin at the A.K. Hinds University Center. This is a DegreePlus event.

Jan. 21 also is the first of two MKL Days of Service from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Available projects through the Center for Service Learning will be held at a variety of service sites, such as Catman2 and the Cullowhee Community Garden. For more information, contact Jennifer Cooper at

Tuesday, Jan. 22– Students, faculty and staff are invited to join in to help make hygiene bags for homeless people in the surrounding area from noon until 5 p.m. in the UC Multipurpose Room. Also, 24 backpacks will be made for kids in an after-school program housed at the Pigeon Community Multicultural Development Center.

Dwayne Tutt, WCU associate director for institutional research, will give a lecture about how Martin Luther King Jr. used religion and economics to build the case for the need for unions. Tutt’s background is in both economics and religious studies. This is a DegreePlus event. The lecture will be in Stillwell Room 244 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

In the spirit of King’s vision, student organizations from across campus will come together for a Unity Program from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Intercultural Affairs lounge located in the UC. Students will make care packages, create dream boards and play the game Kahoot! This is a DegreePlus event.

Thursday, Jan. 24– Cairo will provide faculty, staff and students with inclusivity training that will equip them with hands-on tools to address some of the human interactions that might be difficult at times. The faculty and staff session will be from 9 to 10 a.m. followed by the student session from 1 to 2 p.m. in the UC’s Raleigh Room. To register, faculty and staff should visit HERE. Students can register HERE.

While poverty is prevalent throughout Western North Carolina, there are many who may not truly understand it. A poverty simulation will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. in the UC Grandroom that bridges the gap from misconception to understanding. The simulation in an interactive, immersion experience that sensitizes participants to the realities of poverty. This is a DegreePlus event. Register to participate HERE.

Friday, Jan. 25– Phamily Matter, a program about family dynamics and how family life can hurt or help you and how it has shaped you in some way, will take place at Illusions in the UC from 6 to 8 p.m.

Saturday, Jan. 26– The second MLK Day of Service will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interested students should contact Jennifer Cooper at

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