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MLK Day celebrated in Great Falls

Posted at 9:13 AM, Jan 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-21 11:46:12-05

GREAT FALLS — On Monday morning, in honor of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, scores of students, faculty, and community members gathered at the university of providence for the school’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration.

Event organizer Stephanie Schnider shared how Dr. King’s legacy lives on today. "Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. helped elevate our understanding of human dignity and the noble pursuit of unity. His message still resonates today, and the University is proud to provide our community with a space to honor his legacy,” Schnider said.

The day of celebration started with a bell ringing outside the University Center. Afterwards attendees gathered upstairs for a service honoring Dr. King

The service included gospel music from the Abba Father Voices of Praise Community Gospel Choir and In His Defense, artwork from an alumna of the University of Providence, and a message from Keynote Speaker, Associate Professor of Theology at the University of Providence, Dr David M. Gides.

Gides message touched on the relationship between Catholic social teachings and those of Dr. King. He explained how both teachings stress living according to a law of love.

“King and Jesus call us to something deeper, something better, something greater... out of an obvious or ordinary sense of fairness or simply falling laws out of fear or punishment or just because they are laws. Indeed, we are called to an internal transformation to the law of love,” Gides said.

Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins delivered a message of hope, inclusivity, courage, diversity and hundreds of other adjectives to a packed house at the Mount Olive Christian Fellowship on Monday night.

He was invited by Pastor John Baker and other church officials to give an address on where he saw Montana fitting into the ongoing national discussion of racial equality, with special attention to how far we’ve come since Martin Luther King Jr. Day officially became a national holiday in 1986.

“Dr. King was a man whose life led him to understand early on that racism, bigotry were bred by fear,” Collins said with invigoration. “The life of Dr. King and the values he lived by were those of tolerance, love, understanding and empathy.”

The night began with opening remarks by Pastor Baker, followed by a plea for donations to the Hurricane Dorian Relief Fund by Deacon Willie Reese. Then prayer and scripture led by Chaplain Cornell Hurst and Pastor Andre Murphy. Then, a letter from Senator Jon Tester was read aloud to the audience, before the night ended with the inspiring words of Mayor Collins. All of those events were briefly interrupted by spirited song and dance by the Great Falls Community Choir, Tracy Williams Alexander Temple, and UnTapp3d.

It was the type of event that MLK painted a picture of in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963. An entire congregation made of people who didn’t care for the color of their neighbor’s skin, only for the content of their character.

Collins told the story of his first few weeks in Montana after coming over from Liberia, and he said that he hopes the rest of the country can learn a lesson from the Treasure State.

“I think Montana is on its way to accomplishing the dreams of Martin Luther King. I strongly believe that,” he said. “Citizens in Butte decided to be the solution instead of the problem. Citizens in Billings decided to be the solution instead of the problem. Yes, Montana is on its way.”

The overarching message of the night in the 6th Avenue North building was this: “A Day On, Not A Day Off.”

Collins joked that he hoped the crowd didn’t sleep in this morning, and he reminded everyone that today is not just a day to remember what King said in his speeches, but also what he did in his life. Communities around Montana spent their long weekend volunteering and donating their time and money to worthy causes. A day of sleep turned into a day of service. It was a weekend that Dr. King might just have been proud of.

Mayor Collins ended the night with a challenge to his fellow Montanans: “When you leave here tonight, try and schedule coffee, lunch, with someone who does not sing the same political song as you, with someone who does not sing the same church songs as you. Don’t you tell me you can’t find anyone of that nature,” he said as the crowd laughed in agreement. “If you live in Montana, you can.”

In honor of Martin Luther King’s legacy of love, a group of students from the University of Providence showed love to their community at St. Vincent de Paul of North Central Montana.

Six students led by a faculty member sorted food at the St. Vincent de Paul food bank, preparing food boxes for distribution.

Stephanie Schnider, group leader and Providence Formation Program Director for the University of Povidence,says that while we tend to associate King with civil rights, his life was rooted in recognizing the dignity of humanity: “It essentially comes back to recognizing the human dignity of people and I believe that us reaching out in service to others is our way of doing that and living out his legacy today,” Schnider said.

Alex WIlliams and a few of his fellow students answered the call to serve: “I think this is great. people have taken their time out today. They didn't need to be here today no one asked them to but they've taken time out to help others and this really goes a long way. It's a great cause,” Williams said.

St.Vincent de Paul’s Director of Operations June Kavulla said the help from volunteers like these students enables them to give: “It’s volunteers like this that really make a difference so we can give more."