The University of Montana African American Studies Department is preparing for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with special events and activities.

Director Tobin Miller Shearer spoke with KGVO News on Thursday and provided details of how the university and the community can take part.

“This year, we are trying to focus on King’s legacy,” said Dr. Shearer. “We’ve invited the campus community to think about how they are promoting his legacy in terms of the many different roles we fill here in the Missoula community. We had an essay contest and later on this afternoon (Thursday) we’ll be announcing the four undergraduate winners of that contest who wrote these wonderful essays describing how King had impacted their lives.”

Also on Thursday, a UM alumna, Meshayla Cox, Program, Events, and Outreach Coordinator for The Montana Racial Equity Project, is presenting a keynote address at the Davidson Honors College.

Shearer said there will be other events on campus throughout the weekend and into the holiday on Monday.

“As part of the community-wide celebration, we’re encouraging all of our students and faculty and the community to join us at St. Anthony’s Church on Monday evening at 6:00 p.m.,” he said. “We’ll be hearing from a variety of community leaders including Rabbi Laurie Franklin from the Har Shalom Community, and she will be the featured speaker.”

Shearer said he will also be speaking in February as part of Black History Month.

“I’ll be speaking about the precarious position of minority rights during the Alumni Lecture Series that our university hosts,” he said, adding that the legacy of Dr. King does live on here in Montana. “I absolutely believe it does, especially when I see it in the many people who are pushing back against the rise of white nationalism that we’ve seen, not only in our state, but across the country, particularly concentrated here in the Pacific Northwest. I see that in groups like Missoula’s Idea for Racial Justice, Montana’s Racial Equity Project, the Montana Human Rights Network, and the Love Lives Here Coalition in the Flathead area.”

Shearer said he is also working with the Native American students and organizations on campus.

“The film series that will be hosted by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee here in town is focusing on the struggle of the Native American community, particularly around the Standing Rock NoDAPL movement and telling that story for native sovereignty rights,” he said. “These were the kinds of issues that King was also concerned about and connected to in the course of his lifetime, so we’re seeing that reflected in the effort of the King committee in the area.”