MLK’s dream lives on at 29th Tech banquet

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Attendees at the 29th annual Martin Luther King Day banquet at Michigan Technological University listen to Zack Rubinstein, assistant director of Tech’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

HOUGHTON — As a first-year student at Michigan Technological University, Andrea Smith thought it was important to be part of a Michigan Tech tradition. As vice president of Tech’s Black Students Association, she worked closely with the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) to put the MLK Week events together.

With a small minority population at Tech, she said, it’s important to recognize the diversity that is there.

“I feel like everybody’s so close here it really makes me feel welcome,” she said. “I’m glad they appreciate the importance of Dr. King because he was an amazing figure in civil rights. Having this type of event just brings everybody together and brings awareness, so I really like it.”

Michigan Tech’s Martin Luther King Day banquet was held Tuesday night in the Rozsa Center lobby. It preceded the Rozsa performance of Katori Hall’s play “The Mountaintop,” a fictional account of King’s final night, and a question-and-answer session with the cast. Saturday’s Living section will feature a story on the performance.

Zack Rubinstein, assistant director of Tech’s CDI, called the event “by far my favorite event” at Tech.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Zack Rubinstein, assistant director of Michigan Technological University’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, talks at the conclusion of the Martin Luther King dinner at the Rozsa Center Tuesday.

“This is the 29th year this university has been celebrating Dr. King,” he said. “That’s incredible. That’s longer than some of our actual university traditions on the books.”

The event is a good time to reflect on King’s legacy, Rubinstein said. Universally admired now, he was controversial in his day. In a 1966 Gallup poll, about two-thirds of Americans disapproved of King.

“He wasn’t exactly everyone’s favorite person, because he was pushing the boundaries, he was pushing the status quo,” Rubinstein said.

Higher education is deservedly under a microscope for its commitment to diversity, Rubinstein said. Tech has also been pushing at the status quo in its programs, he said.

Within the past 18 months, he said Tech has:

•hired a dedicated minority recruiter.

•made housing and residential life more inclusive for the LGBTQ population.

•dedicated a faculty member in the provost’s office on diversity initiatives.

“And the Center for Diversity and Inclusion is pushing forward more so than we ever have before,” he said. “We are doing amazing things at Michigan Tech … In many ways, we are ahead of the pack.”

Instead of being cordoned off to a week in Monday or a month in February, he said, the legacy of King and other notable black figures should be celebrated year-round, he said, but this is a good time to reflect and get momentum going.

“You are all here to celebrate this one person that has meant so much to America and has changed the world,” he said. “It’s really the reason, I think, that we have everything that we have at Michigan Tech and in the Houghton community.”

Representatives for Michigan’s U.S. senators also attended the dinner. Jay Gage, the U.P. regional manager for Sen. Debbie Stabenow, read Stabenow’s MLK Day remarks and offered his own thoughts. When he was a Lake Superior State University student, Gage had visited the campus numerous times.

“It’s very heartwarming to see not only how many people are out here tonight, but how many people that aren’t just students, that are community members, that are coming, to show how important this is,” he said. “You don’t often see something like this in the Upper Peninsula.”

Katelyn Rader, Sen. Gary Peters’ Upper Peninsula coordinator, read a letter from Peters written for the banquet.

“Dr. King was deeply committed to pursuing equal opportunity, but he taught us that progress comes from the hard work of everyday Americans striving to make our society better,” Peters said.

Travis Tidwell, a third-year accounting and management information systems student at Tech who attended the dinner, said it is important to remember what King accomplished.

“He wasn’t liked in the moment, but looking back on history he did a really good thing for African-American suffrage,” he said. “It’s good to reflect on everything he’s done, so we can continue to grow in the future.”