In addition to being a pioneer in the civil rights movement in Western North Carolina, Oralene Anderson Graves Simmons is known nationally and internationally for her civil rights path of non-violence, making it fitting that she is the keynote speaker for Western Carolina University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
Simmons will give her presentation Wednesday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. The theme is “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Legacy of Connection: The Story of U.S.”
In 1961, Simmons helped integrate all-white Mars Hill College when she became the first African American student to enroll. She first gained worldwide recognition when she was featured as a young leader in both Jet and Time magazines. She later was the founder of Asheville’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Prayer Breakfast, as well as the founding president of the Martin Luther King Jr. Association of Asheville and Buncombe County, and former co-chair of the North Carolina State Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission.
Simmons strives to inspire audiences locally, nationally and internationally with her speeches. She currently is working on a memoir based on lectures about her life, titled “Journey to Myself.” Simmons was the recipient of the national MLK Commission’s “Making of the King Holiday Award,” which was presented to her by Coretta Scott King.
Other MLK Jr. events include:
Monday, Jan. 20 – MLK Jr. Unity March beginning at 11 a.m. at the fountain in the center of campus. The march unifies students, faculty, staff and community members. This is a DegreePlus event.
Jan. 20 is also the first of two MLK Days of Service from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning is looking for student volunteers for available projects at a variety of service sites, such as Catman2, the Cullowhee Community Garden and more. Interested students can sign up on Engage.
Tuesday, Jan. 21 – The Black Student Union is hosting “Let’s Talk Colorism: BSU Speak and Paint.” This event takes place at 6 p.m. in the A.K. Hinds University Center’s Grandroom. While painting, students will hear from BSU members on a subject that divides many students of color and keeps them from organizing and building strong communities based on cooperation and unity. It is a collaborative effort with student organizations across campus designed to develop a program that unifies students.
Thursday, Jan. 23 – “Indivisible Not Invisible: Focus on Mental Health for Poor, Marginalized and People of Color” will take place at 6 p.m. in the UC Multipurpose Room. This is an exploration of individual and societal stigmas that come from bias. The programs seeks to refocus the importance of mental health for marginalized students, faculty and staff.
Friday, Jan. 24 – NCBI Training. The National Coalition Building Institute Campus Program is a curriculum used to deliver inclusion, social justice and conflict resolution work on campuses of higher education. The program requires participants to begin exploring and knowing ones’ self as one engages in the efforts of social justice. Students can register HERE.
Saturday, Jan. 25 – The second MLK Day of Service will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interested students can sign up on Engage.