WESTVILLE – When Purdue University Northwest hosts a pair of events honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. next week, the keynote speaker will be a Michigan City native who has worked to carry on King’s fight.
Bethel College Associate Prof. Theo Williams, a 1994 Elston High School graduate, will speak at MLK Day celebrations Monday on PNW’s Westville Campus, and Tuesday on the Hammond Campus.
"I really got interested and involved in social justice issues back in college," said Williams, who attended Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virgina. "There was always something going on that revolved around issues of race, racism, inequality, etc.
"For me, it hit home because I not only heard many stories about these issues, I also experienced struggles myself."
He said his passion for social justice was "a case of being proactive and not simply being reactive or passive. As a black man in America, I feel as though I literally cannot afford to ignore these issues. It could be a matter of life and death in some cases."
PNW spokesman Douglas Clark said the school invited Williams because he "has a passion for social justice issues and has conducted extensive research on topics related to Dr. King’s vision. He developed and facilitated his first national conference workshop on racial reconciliation in 1998, and has spoken nationally and internationally in the years since."
Williams said it’s crucial because many of the causes King fought for have still not come to fruition.
"I believe the issues King addressed and fought against still exist today. I believe they will always exist in America," he said.
Asked about specific issues, he said there are "too many things to even begin to articulate a list. There is simply so much work to be done."
"I do feel that there are some who continue the struggle," Williams said. "However, there seems to be an unwillingness to truly pay the cost for justice on behalf of others. This could be because we feel that we have so much to lose. As a result, we play it safe. However, Dr. King did not play it safe. Consequently, that cost him his life."
Besides being an educator, Williams is an ordained minister. He earned his doctorate in Communication from Regent University, and a Master’s in Urban Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
His academic focus at Bethel College, a private school in Mishawaka, is on "the role of communication within the process of racial reconciliation, intercultural competence and cross-cultural relationships," he said.
When he’s not working, Williams said he still finds time to return to Michigan City.
"I do visit there quite often as my parents, sister and nephew still live in Michigan City," he said. "I also try and come to give back to the community whenever I can. This may include speaking at various events, or just supporting others who are doing meaningful things in the city."
Monday’s event in Westville is "the 24th year of bringing the surrounding communities together to recognize the life and achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. as we continue to pursue his vision of justice and equality for all,” said Laura Odom, associate director of PNW’s office of equity, diversity and inclusion.
"I believe it is important that we acknowledge the ups and downs in the life of someone who fights for equality. This is especially true for any of us who desire to follow the model that Dr. King set before us. We cannot simply desire the fame, platform, notoriety … We must also be willing to pay the price for those things."
PNW hosts its 24th annual MLK Community Celebration Breakfast from 8:30-10 a.m. Monday in the Dworkin Student Services and Activities Complex on the Westville Campus on U.S. 421, just south of the Indiana Toll Road.
Theo Williams will deliver the keynote address; Karen Bishop-Morris, interim dean of the Honors College, will serve as emcee; and musical entertainment will be provided by PNW student Casey “C.J. Musique” Baker. The event is free, but reservations are required. They can be made at pnw.edu/MLK-celebration.
Sponsors include by the Multicultural Campus Council, NIPSCO, Horizon Bank, Michigan City Human Rights Commission, Sinai Temple, Visit Michigan City La Porte, 1st Source Bank, Unity Foundation, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Sondra Craig, La Porte County NAACP, Life Changes, and Michigan City Commission on the Social Status of African American Males.