A New Celebration of MLK Day

Author: Megan Kelleher

Although a federal holiday since 1983, this Jan. 17 was the first time Notre Dame officially recognized Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a university holiday for all students, faculty and staff. 

For the past six years, Notre Dame honored Martin Luther King, Jr. during the week that follows MLK Day with “Walk the Walk Week”: a series of events designed “to help each of us consider the steps we might take individually and collectively to make Notre Dame, our communities and our nation more welcoming and inclusive.” 

However, in March 2021, junior Eliza Smith, then-Senator of Johnson Family Hall, brought a resolution to the Student Government proposing that MLK Day be deemed an official university holiday, allowing students the full day of observance.

“Notre Dame's foundation in Catholic Social Teaching and history of Civil Rights should provide space for DEI [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] efforts to flourish, however, this is not always the case. Especially given ND's history of highlighting Fr. Hesburgh's and MLK's relationship, the University needed to provide a greater opportunity to reflect on the importance of social justice, racial equality and civil rights initiatives,” Smith said. 

Smith and her partners in Student Government, Amaya Medeiros and Cassidy Ferrell, formed the Instagram account MLKCoalition to garner student support for the proposal. After months of research, surveys and meetings, the coalition and Student Body President Allan Njomo met with Father Gerry Ollinger, who enthusiastically pushed the group’s agenda forward to help secure the day’s recognition. 

On Jan. 13, 2022, President Rev. John I. Jenkins announced the university’s plan to observe MLK Day as a university holiday. Medeiros, Student Government’s director for diversity and inclusion, spearheaded this year’s Walk the Walk Week campaign, which featured discussions about mental health in the Black community, a panel discussion about building an inclusive campus and an exploration of Black liberation through art at the Snite Museum. 

Going forward, the MLK Coalition hopes the university will continue to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy with a full day of observance devoted to the development and promotion of an inclusive, supportive and diverse campus community.