When Antoine Waul, ’13, first laid eyes on the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Memorial in Washington, D.C., he was struck by what it meant to see an African-American icon cast in granite among the presidents and war heroes of the past.
“It was a beautiful thing,” he says. “[King] is the first African-American to be honored on the National Mall. That’s a huge milestone for race relations in the U.S. It shows that we’re beginning to push forward.”
The story of King’s life has always resonated with Waul. Growing up, his parents felt his school’s instruction on black history was inadequate, so they taught Waul about many of the Civil Rights leaders, but “[King] always stuck out to me,” he says. “He was such a great speaker and was the driving force in the struggle.”
Waul is now bringing his personal knowledge and interest in King to the University’s annual MLK Day celebration on Jan. 16. Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity — an African-American fraternity to which King also belonged — was tasked with sending a representative to contribute to the planning committee and Waul knew he had to sign up as co-chair.
Building on the 2012 theme — Dream, Think, Act — the committee organized a program of performances, dramatic interpretations, and presentations that address topics ranging from human trafficking to the lives of major Civil Rights leaders.
“[The performances] are designed to be thought-provoking,” he says. “The pieces aim to get you to dream about what you want to see in society and then think about how you can create positive social change.”
For their own presentation, Waul and the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha spent a weekend in the nation’s capital visiting the monument and producing a video about his life. Members spoke about how they can help keep spirit of King’s dream alive.
“We had a holistic view of him and what our role is in fulfilling [his dream],” Waul says. “We talked about education, social justice, and helping youth — many different aspects. I think my role is to educate the public to make sure that we still have justice and equality throughout. When you have justice and equality in society, you have equal opportunities [for all].”
Waul will have another opportunity to visit the King monument with his University classmates. A trip is planned for Jan. 15, as part of the commemorative events.
Whether from witnessing the day’s performances, participating in a series of discussions in the week to follow, or reading King word’s inscribed in granite along the edge of the Tidal Basin, Waul wants members of the University community to find their own way to carry on King’s dream.
“I hope that people take away the real need for social justice and equality in our society,” he says. “That it encourages people to look for their dream, think about how to accomplish it, and then act on it.”