In celebrating MLK Day, students consider what it means to be a ‘beloved community’

Author: Erin Blasko

Walk the Walk Week, an annual celebration at the University of Notre Dame of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., kicked off Tuesday (Jan. 18) with a student-focused panel discussion titled “Walk the Walk: Building the ‘Beloved Community’ at Notre Dame” — a reference to King’s vision of a global community characterized by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

Sponsored by the Office of the President in collaboration with Student Government, the hour-long discussion focused on the ways in which students, faculty and staff can build a “beloved community” on campus — one in which love and trust triumph over fear and hatred.

Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., opened the discussion.

“To become the Notre Dame we seek to be, it is not the work of some of us but all of us,” Father Jenkins said. “And this work is not optional for any of us, for it is at the heart of our mission to make Notre Dame a place that is ever more characterized by respect for every person, care for one another and a commitment to justice and solidarity.”

He concluded, “I hope tonight’s conversation will provide all of us important food for thought about the next steps we might take to build an even better Notre Dame.”

Maria McKenna, associate professor of the practice in both the Department of Africana Studies and the Education, Schooling and Society Program, followed with the invocation, praying, in part, “God of infinite wisdom and grace, as we gather together this evening to consider the opportunities and challenges that come with striving for a beloved community here at Notre Dame and in the world, we humbly seek your intercession. We ask for strength of heart and a listening disposition. We ask that you continue to be ever present in our midst as we grapple with injustice, hatred, day-to-day aggressions and the evil of racism.”

Next, moderator Dianne Pinderhughes, professor of Africana studies and political science, introduced the panelists: Alvaro Carrillo Marcano, founder and current president of the Puerto Rican Student Association; Gabe McKenna, president of PrismND; Ify Nwebube, president of the Black Student Association; Connor Patrick, chair of all cultural clubs for the Club Coordination Council and president of the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir; Yvette Pino, member of the Columbus Murals Committee and the Native American Student Association; and Stephanie Wong, president of the Student Bar Association.

During the discussion, the students called for better awareness of the level of diversity on campus and of the work that needs to be done to make campus more welcoming and inclusive for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, faith, gender identity or sexual orientation.

This starts with education, they said, but does not end there.

What’s more, it sometimes involves uncomfortable truths.

“Notre Dame has a lot to offer, but Notre Dame is not perfect,” Pino said. “There have been times here where I have felt unwelcome” or where other people or groups “have felt that their voices don’t matter.”

But it’s important to speak up, she said.

Gabe McKenna said: “To love something is not to overlook its flaws. In fact, it is the opposite. To love something is to see its flaws and to see, ‘Oh, this is still not quite a home for everyone. But because I love the Golden Dome and because I love our MotherMary, I want to do what I can to make it that home for everyone.’”

Patrick was reminded of greeNDot, the campus conflict resolution program, whose motto is: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

“I don’t think that everyone is doing something, and I think we ought to,” he said. “A lot of us need to educate ourselves and become aware of what’s going on and then do something about it.”

That starts, he said, with “just showing up and being present.”

“People can educate themselves and become aware through so many different resources that Notre Dame has to offer,” Nwebube said. “But it’s having that consistent attitude of do I still want to be educated, do I still want to be aware” that really matters.

While much remains to be done, the students credited the University for its overall commitment to diversity and inclusion, from speaking with a resolute voice about issues of injustice and inequality and facilitating important discussions about race, to taking tangible steps to increase and support diversity, in all of its forms, among students, faculty and staff.

Following the discussion, members of the campus community gathered in the Main Building for a candlelight prayer service, where they reflected on King’s legacy and prayed for an end to racism, inequality and injustice.

Walk the Walk Week continues through Tuesday (Jan. 25). For more information, visit