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Grand Forks, UND celebrate Martin Luther King’s message, legacy

Crosby Peterson, a first-grader at Thompson (N.D.) Elementary School, reads "Martin's Dream," with assistance from UND student Joshua Carter at the observance for Martin Luther King, Jr., at UND's Gorecki Alumni Center on Monday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 5
Allysa Johnson, a recent UND graduate, accepts "The Dream in Action" award from UND President Mark Kennedy (right) and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown at Monday's event to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 5
Nikki Berg Burin, a UND history professor, accepts one of the four "The Dream in Action" awards to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown (left) and UND President Mark Kennedy. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald3 / 5
Warren Sai, a UND student, accepts "The Dream in Action" award from UND President Mark Kennedy (right) and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown at Monday's event to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald4 / 5
The Grand Forks Global Friends Coalition, represented by Robin David, accepts "The Dream in Action" award from UND President Mark Kennedy (left) and Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown at Monday's event to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald5 / 5

Themes of justice, compassion and inclusion were woven into the messages delivered Monday at the Martin Luther King Jr. "The Dream in Action" celebration at UND.

The event honored the memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Gorecki Alumni Center.

It was also meant to stir a commitment to action by recognizing those in the community who have worked to turn King's words into reality.

For the first time, four recipients were presented with The Dream in Action Award, two at UND and two in the community. The concept for the award was introduced at last year's event to honor King.

The UND recipients are Nikki Berg Burin, a faculty member in the history department, and Warren Sai, a student. Community recipients are the Global Friends Coalition, represented by Robin David, and Allysa Johnson, a UND communications graduate.

Award recipients were selected by a committee composed of Angelique Foster, chief of staff, UND President's Office; Stacey Borboa Peterson, director, Student Diversity and Inclusion; Pete Haga, director, community and government relations; Jeff Gibson, senior program coordinator for LGBTQ+ and Cross-Cultural Programming Initiatives; and Olivia Akinpelu, president, UND Black Student Association.

UND President Mark Kennedy praised Burin as "a scholar activist with a passion for justice," who is devoted especially to combating human trafficking, he said.

Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown lauded the Global Friends Coalition for "building connections with the community" by supporting English language learning and organizing "hundreds of volunteers who donate hundreds of thousands of hours" to welcome and help integrate refugees here "with dignity and respect," he said.

Sai, a native of France who came to study at UND, has been active with the African Student Union on campus and through his work with Grand Forks Development Homes Inc., and as a soccer coach in the community.

Johnson was nominated for the award by fellow student Alex Catts, who said Johnson "is my version of Dr. King," Catts said. "She sticks up for everyone."

Kennedy introduced his remarks with his "favorite quote" by King, "We may have all come on different ships, but we are all in the same boat now."

Kennedy, who grew up Pequot Lakes, Minn., recalled instances of race discrimination he witnessed while living in the South earlier in his career that "shocked and repulsed" him, he said.

When dealing with issues of diversity, "we become focused on fixating on our own differences, rather than jumping into others' boats," in order to better understand their perspectives.

He praised the work that has been done to promote "justice and compassion, and broadening the inclusions we have as a nation, city and within the UND community."

Call to action

In his remarks, Brown said, "We are focused on action today. Action shapes who we are."

"When we start with 'all men are created equal,' it makes things easier," he said. "Our actions are moving us forward."

One of his favorite quotes by King, Brown said, is, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

Grand Forks is "a place of excellence," he said, referring to a guiding theme of his administration. "(Working toward) a common, higher purpose brings us closer to the ideal."

Another favorite King quote is, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends," Brown said.

"We need to speak up for each other. I'm glad our community is doing that."

Through this and other means, "we move ahead as a community," he said.

Redefining 'neighbor'

In her keynote address, the director of the Christus Rex Lutheran Campus Center at UND, Kathy Fick spoke about her childhood experience when her parents took her to a civil rights rally in Iowa.

Her parents used the event to teach her an expansive definition of "neighbor"—not just those who lived on her block—and what could be learned from the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible.

Those who first encountered the beaten and abandoned stranger along the road, Fick said, were worried about the consequences, to themselves, of offering aid.

"They thought, 'If I stop and help him, what will happen to me?' " speculating that it was a ploy to rob them, she said.

"The Good Samaritan reversed the question, 'If I don't stop and help, what will happen to him?' "

That lesson "transformed my heart, and shaped my life forever," Fick said.

It was a "powerful lesson," she said. "Justice became a fire that burned in me."

Fick spoke of work that has been done, and remains to be done, concerning equal rights for women, marriage rights for members for the LGBTQ community, and access to health care for those struggling with mental health and addiction issues.

"We are still marching," she said. "The work is not done."