A federal judge born in East Chicago and a motivational speaker from Atlanta are among the featured speakers for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day observances at two area college campuses.
East Chicago-born Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel will address King’s legacy and vision at Purdue University Northwest on Monday in Westville and Tuesday at the Hammond campus.
At Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Stephon Ferguson, an ordained minister and motivational speaker, will speak Thursday. Ferguson’s presentation is among several King- and Black History Month-related programs at the Gary campus.
“Each year we look forward to these commemorative events that connect PNW with the community and contribute to fulfilling Dr. King’s vision,” said Laura Odom, associate director of the university’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The youngest of four children born to native Mexicans who became naturalized U.S. citizens, Curiel attended Bishop Noll High School (now Institute) before earning his bachelor’s and law degrees from Indiana University. He was a former assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief and then chief of California Narcotics Enforcement Division before then-California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to the State Superior Court in 2006. Under President Barack Obama, Curiel was appointed a U.S. District judge in October 2012.
Curiel gained worldwide attention when President Donald Trump sharply criticized him during the Trump University lawsuit over which Curiel was presiding.
The PNW presentation at the Westville campus Monday is a breakfast program. The Tuesday celebration at the Hammond campus will feature a mid-day reception following Curiel’s address.
King was mortally wounded April 4, 1968, while on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
President Ronald Reagan signed the King Holiday Bill into law on Nov. 2, 1983. U.S. Rep. Katie Hall, a Gary Democrat, was sponsor of that legislation.
It was not until 17 years later, in 2000, that South Carolina became the last state to sign a bill recognizing the King observance as a paid holiday.
James Wallace, director of the IUN Office for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, called the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination “a time for deep reflection. It is important to consider our history, explore how far we have come and recognize how much farther we have to go to realize the ‘dream’ Dr. King spoke of in 1963.”
Ferguson’s presentation is the first event by Wallace’s office in IUN and Ivy Tech Community College's new Arts & Sciences Building. “It’s important that the first message by this office is one of peace and unity,” Wallace noted.
Wallace had long sought Ferguson, the only person authorized by the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta to deliver oratory in King’s style and teach King’s philosophy. That approach, Wallace said, calls upon citizens “to be educated, strive toward unity of the human condition and choose love instead of hate.”
Quoting the late activist-comedian Dick Gregory, Wallace said, “Fifty percent of the people living in the U.S. were not born when King was assassinated. So, when they hear [Ferguson], they’re hearing King for the first time, and that’s very important.”