The 21st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Vigil had a record turnout Monday, with people filling the aisles and standing along the back wall.
The vigil took place in the Verizon Ballroom and exceeded 550 audience members, ASG Vice President Abigail Walker said.
This was the first time the venue exceeded capacity, ASG President J.P. Gairhan said. ASG does not keep track of official attendance at the MLK vigils, but members knew the attendance exceeded 550 because they ran out of flyers.
The vigil was organized by the UA Black Students Association and the Associated Student Government.
“[King’s] legacy has continued to remind us all of our commitment to freedom and human rights,” said Alexis Broox Piggee, president of the Black Alumni Society Scholars. “Our nation has shown us moments of tension, discord and violence. There is no doubt we have a role to play in shaping the world to be more accepting and understanding of our differences.”
Growing up in a biracial family, Piggee thinks the racial divide in America is more apparent to her, she said.
“There has been remarkable progress in race relations, but that does not mean we can stop fighting for racial equality,” Piggee said. “Dr. King’s struggle was the beginning of a long, hard journey. This march symbolizes the unity in our community as we walk in Dr. Martin Luther King’s footsteps.”
Angela Mosley Monts, the UA assistant vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, was the vigil’s keynote speaker.
“Dr. King took a stand when no one else would,” Monts said during her speech. “He was the voice for those who had none.”
Monts spoke passionately about King’s teachings and challenged the audience to follow in his footsteps.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive,” Monts said. “He who cannot forgive cannot love. There is love in the worst of us and evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we lose the ability to hate our enemies.”
Monts closed her speech saying, “Just as Dr. King said, we as people have to keep moving forward.”
After attending the vigil four years in a row, Gairhan was excited to see the turnout, he said.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for lots of different people on campus to come together and celebrate Dr. King’s legacy,” Gairhan said. “The UofA and the whole Northwest Arkansas community come together and share a perspective on who was obviously a pretty incredible individual. It's an opportunity for campus … to think about what we can do to perpetuate love in our community.”
The UA Inspirational Choir closed out the vigil by singing traditional gospel music, hymns and a motivational rap. Audience members spontaneously held hands, linked arms and clapped along.
The vigil followed the 23rd annual MLK march from the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Razorback Road to the Verizon Ballroom in the Arkansas Union. The march began at 11 a.m., and the vigil began at 12 p.m.