Instead of taking the day off and contemplating in isolation our call, we choose to gather as a community to collectively reflect on the legacy of Rev. King and the work still left for us to do. In addition to a compelling convocation speaker, we believe it is vital to engage in targeted discussions around key issues and our focus sessions allow us to do just that, creating space for Rev. King’s prophetic work to give life and guidance to fulfilling the dream today.

Each of our four Focus Sessions—Wealth and Inequality, Faith and Justice, Equity and Access, Environment and Inclusion—is anchored by a talk delivered by regional and national experts. Each session also includes presentations from Valparaiso University faculty and students as well as members of the wider Valparaiso community.

If you are looking for information on the MLK for Kids track, please click here.

Focus Session: Wealth & Inequality

Women and the Student Debt Crisis (Chyanne Holth and Brittany Weis, Athena Society)

We cannot wait to address the issue of student debt, especially when specific genders, races and classes are affected in different ways. If we do not begin to educate other students and take action toward lowering student debt, the issue may become too large to be properly handled, and many more students pursuing their desired careers will be affected and placed further into debt.

Addressing Inequality in Housing (Paul Schreiner, Project Neighbors)

By addressing issues of race, class and poverty, Project Neighbors goal is to build healthy families and neighborhoods, where diversity of all kinds is welcomed and cherished.Three time recipient of the “Community Improvement Award” from the Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, Project Neighbors is best known for its work on behalf of affordable housing in Valparaiso, where fully 43% of households are poor or ALICE (Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed), according to United Way’s 2018 ALICE  report.

Faith and the Fight for Workers’ Rights (Martha Ojeda, Interfaith Worker Justice)

Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) is a national network that builds collective power by advancing the rights of workers through unions, worker centers, and other expressions of the labor movement and by engaging diverse faith communities and allies in joint action, from grassroots organizing to shaping policy at the local, state and national levels.

Featured Presenter: Dr. SimonMary Aihiokhai

Dr. SimonMary Aihiokhai is a member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, province of Nigeria North-West. He is an assistant professor of systematic theology at the University of Portland. His research explores issues dealing with religion and identity, interfaith dialogue, comparative theology, and expressions of Christianity in the global context.

 

Focus Session: Faith & Justice

Called to Embrace Differences (Hannah Purkey, SALT)

To be the salt of the Earth (Matthew 5:13)  is to bring about preservation of the good. Sounds easy when it is said like that, but to be the salt of the Earth NOW, is hard for young people. From violence on college campuses to shootings in schools, we are continually hearing of new situations where people are experiencing victimization. Young adults are becoming desensitized to these injustices. How am I as a young person called to live in response? Answering this question can be hard, but responding to the question is a necessity right now. We can not wait any longer. We are called to find and create spaces where people can have dialogue across differences.

As in a Mirror Dimly (Rev. Jim Wetzstein, University Pastor)

In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul writes that, this side of eternity, we see things “as in a mirror, dimly,” that is, imperfectly and provisionally. This perspective on human knowledge can help us hold on to our ideas with the understanding that, while they’re the best we’ve got at any moment, they’re always subject to revision and improvement. Such intellectual modesty prepares us to dialogue across difference with greater respect and patience, both with our neighbor and ourselves as an act of love.

No Child is Born Bad (Marshan T. Allen, Restore Justice)

Marshan T. Allen, a former juvenile lifer in Illinois, works with Restore Justice Illinois to help pass legislation that would bring parole back to Illinois for children who have committed serious crimes.

Featured Presenter: Dr. Dwight Hopkins

Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins is the Alexander Campbell Professor of Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He initiated and managed a 14-country network to think about the practices of building healthy communities and healthy individuals in communities. With representatives from Hawaii, Fiji, Australia, Japan, India, England, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, Brazil, and the USA, the network forged learning about neighbors through neighbors sharing their cultures. Indeed, in international transactions of business, politics, and religions, one of the greatest challenges is lack of cultural understanding. Restated, cultures facilitate harmony and balance for the purpose of another world is possible in emerging markets. A higher vision and transcendent values glue the global together spiritually with wealth management.

Focus Session: Equity & Access

Universal Design as the Standard for Event Planning (Jesse Hershberger)

As someone with a disability, Ms. Hershberger is constantly faced with the question of access. Many buildings built before the Americans with Disabilities Act was established are grandfathered in and do not have the same accessibility requirements. She knows students, including herself, who fight for fair academic treatment on a daily basis, who have been discriminated against in the world and in Valpo. The ADA was established almost thirty years ago, yet that does not seem to be enough notice for some. We cannot wait for the conversation on intersectionality to decide to include those with disabilities. We cannot wait any longer.

Advancing Education in Haiti (WAVES)

WAVES (Working Across Vocations Everywhere through Service) has been working actively with two orphanages in Les, Cayes Haiti, providing resources to these orphanages that raise the level of quality of education for students. This has been done by implementing solar electricity, providing science experiment lessons and equipment, and the ongoing project of constructing a vocational school. This presentation will give information on these projects both through descriptions and pictures. Beyond going through the past and current projects of WAVES, this presentation will go into why WAVES does what it does, and the importance of access to high quality education for these students.  

Working for Equity in Healthcare (Beth Wrobel, HealthLinc)

Beth Wrobel has been the CEO of HealthLinc, Inc. since 2002, moving the organization from a free medical clinic serving adults to a Federally Qualified Health Center providing a health care home to all life cycles, prenatal to seniors, with integrated medical, dental, optometry and behavioral health services at 8 locations, a mobile medical/dental van, and approximately 250 employees. HealthLinc began as Hilltop Community Health Center, which was part of the Hilltop Neighborhood House in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Featured Presenter: Ms. Keri Gray

Keri Gray is the Director for the Rising Leaders Initiatives at US Business Leadership Network. In her work, Keri manages the Rising Leaders Mentoring Program and the Rising Leadership Academy for over 300 college students and recent graduates with disabilities who are interested in working in the private sector. These programs collaborate with over 70 companies and provide professional guidance so that students are equipped with knowledge and skills to transition from school to work. Additionally, Keri explores disability conversations with college students so that they are prepared to navigate how social topics impact their professional career and networks.

 

Focus Session: Environment & Inclusion

Creating Space & Place (Shayne Barron, BSO)

We will be discussing how to create a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus. BSO is an organization with a lot of intersectionality between the black community and many other areas. It is important for us to create a space where members feel that they are welcome, and can freely voice their opinions in positive conversation. We want to teach students and other people on campus the meaning of space and place. Space is having a physical environment to engage in dialogue and interact with people without feeling the burden of having to code switch or not be yourself. Place is making sure that everyone in the space is included. No matter how similar people are, there are always things that make them different. .

The Earth’s Adversary (Northwest Indiana African American Alliance)

This presentation seeks to inform the public regarding our fear and obsession with scarcity. The presentation will provide basic data regarding this pathological tendency in American culture.

Where Does Food Come From? (Julien Smith and Liz Wuerffel)

The current practices of industrial agriculture whereby our food is produced, marketed, and distributed are unsustainable. When we perpetuate any unsustainable system, we are guaranteeing its collapse. If we wait for experts to solve this problem, the collapse and its costs to human society will likely be catastrophic. We therefore must begin to address the problem at the local level, helping our own communities understand and make wise choices about food. Much of the discussion over the environmental crisis has centered around climate change, while agricultural practices are often neglected. However, industrial agriculture, with its dependence on petrochemical inputs, is integrally related to this crisis, and moreover is directly implicated in the health of our bodies and communities. Also, the environmental crisis is often treated as a problem to be solved by application of human technology. While technological innovation will no doubt help us, this presentation also urges us to realize the ways in which the environmental crisis can also be understood as problem requiring theological reflection.

Featured Presenter: Ms. Deneine Powell

As the Executive Director for Groundwork Milwaukee, Deneine leads the daily operations and provides strategic direction to Groundwork Milwaukee. Under her leadership, Groundwork has launched several successful initiatives to promote green infrastructure workforce development programming and to expand the base of volunteers actively engaged in the stewardship of our local green spaces.

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