The lasting legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at Kansas State

Archive from 1968 Royal Purple yearbook.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy touched many corners of Kansas State this week. Instagram was flooded with pictures of Dr. King speaking at K-State in 1968, and students and faculty discussed his impact in classes. His message was even spread at Bramlage Coliseum on Tuesday. 

In an interview on SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt on Jan. 17, Jerome Tang, head coach of the men’s basketball team, was asked if K-State fans understood Tang’s message of love, not hate, going into the game against the University of Kansas.

“I sure hope they can, man,” Tang said. “Especially when we celebrated Dr. King’s birthday yesterday — a man who stood for, hey man, love. Love can change hearts and minds.”

K-State will remember Dr. King with a week-long commemoration next week. Christopher Burrell, senior in mechanical engineering and president of the Black Student Union, said he appreciates the university dedicating a full five days to Dr. King’s memory.

“It means a lot to me, as president of the Black Student Union, that we as a university take an entire week to commemorate somebody who did so much for people who look like me,” Burrell said. “It really says a lot to our commitment and our devotion to ensure that his legacy is upheld on the campus of Kansas State University.”

BSU is an organization on campus devoted to equality and celebrating Black culture on and off campus, Burell said. They host a myriad of events throughout the year, including a back-to-school barbeque and a Kwanzaa celebration. K-State BSU is set to host the Big XII Conference on Black Student Government in February.

“The mission of the Black Student Union is to focus on development of the Kansas State community by academic excellence, political action, and the leadership of Black students while promoting Black culture across all aspects of life,” Burrell said. 

Burrell said when thinking of Dr. King, unity, equality, confidence and unapologeticness comes to mind. 

“I take those four qualities and traits and try to apply them to my everyday life, not necessarily  to be more like him, but to hopefully — in some way, shape or form — continue the work that he did nationwide and at Kansas State University,” Burrell said.

Zelia Wiley, the assistant dean and chief diversity officer for the College of Agriculture, said Dr. King has also had a huge influence on her life. 

“Dr. Martin Luther King — his work has had such an impact on my family. We definitely want to be respected for what we do, to be included and to also feel safe in different areas of our work and our personal life,” Wiley said. “I just appreciate his sacrifice of life to make a difference in the world.”

Opening in 1863 as a land-grant institution, ethnic minorities have never been barred from enrolling at K-State, unlike at many southern schools, Wiley said. However, 105 years later when Dr. King visited campus, the university still had progress to make.

“I think what Dr. King did was to continue diversity in thought and put it in action,” Wiley said. “We are so much further than we were 55 years ago. We might not be where we want to be, but we are having conversations.” 

Wiley, who has worked for K-State for 20 years, has been instrumental in organizing MLK Observance Week, which will last from Jan. 23-27. The week will include a day of service as well as workshops, speakers, a film screening and awards. Wiley said she is most looking forward to engaging with students and having open conversations. 

“I hope students learn an appreciation for working with individuals who are not like them,” Wiley said. “And that doesn’t have to be ethnicity — it can be different work habits, it can be diversity of thought, having a good conversation with someone that you disagree with where it doesn’t end in anger.”

Burrell said he believes Dr. King’s teachings will continue to push K-State to foster equality and inclusion. He said the university and student body should not become complacent and should continually strive to improve. 

“I’d say his lasting impression that he left on K-State was the fact that we have to do better,” Burrell said. “Obviously K-State came a long way from where it was, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Wiley said helping students to feel a sense of belonging and readying them to be drivers of change is what will create a more equitable world.

“You’re the generation that we are preparing to take the baton and make a difference in this world,” Wiley said.

She echoes what Dr. King. said in his speech at the university 55 years ago.

“Young people are restless today because they are tired of the processes that are unfolding,” King said. “Our national purpose and our national priorities are being questioned, and I see the hope within the young people of our generation.”