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Martin Luther King Day Celebration focuses on hope  

MOUNT VERNON, Ohio — The Mount Vernon and Knox County community gathered on the campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University to reflect on the work of Martin Luther King Jr., during the annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration on Monday, Jan. 15. The event, themed “Out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” was sponsored by MVNU, Kenyon College and the Knox County Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Committee.

The celebration’s theme is inspired by a quote from Dr. King’s “I Have Dream” speech, “We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” It is also the inspiration for the King Memorial which realizes the metaphorical mountain and stone. 

In reflecting on the profound impact of Dr. King’s message, the words of MVNU President Dr. Carson Castleman resonated with the challenges of our contemporary society. 

“While it is easy for us to feel discouraged about the negative things that are happening in our society today, we can find hope in the good things that are happening. Those good things are happening here on this campus, in our local community, and at Kenyon College — people are making a difference and caring and loving for each other. And that my friends, is what will make a difference in this world,” said Castleman. “We will face challenges in this world. The key is how we will handle these challenges. I submit to you that Dr. Martin Luther King helped us begin to focus on those challenges that we would feel and that we would the experience. And he pointed us to one thing — hope.” 

As the world and college campuses grapple with difficulties, Kenyon College President Dr. Julie Kornfeld underscores the significance of reflecting on Dr. King’s non-violent movement and teachings. 

“This is an incredibly difficult moment in the world and on college campuses. At times like this, I believe it is truly important that we remember Dr. King and the non-violent movement he amassed — a cross-cultural, cross-partisan movement that brought people together rather than driving them apart,” said Kornfeld. “I know that I, like many of you, will continue to turn to his teachings as we navigate the complexities of the time we live in. His moral leadership is a beacon to us all to come together to work toward justice and peace.” 

Keynote speaker Bishop Edward T. Cook, Ohio North First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, and 30-year pastor of the New Life Church of God in Christ, said this year marks the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington and King’s message that day remains one of our country’s most impactful moments in time. 

“Today, ‘I Have a Dream,’ stands alongside the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address as possibly the most significant piece of American rhetoric known to the world,” he said. 

Bishop Cook asked the audience to consider King’s call for common unity through the lens of how it is heard and seen in 2024.  

“It is never more needed than it is today. As we gaze out upon our world, what we see is absolutely frightening,” said Cook. “Every level of social existence and experience screams out of control, no boundaries and utter chaos. Many in today’s society, are literally drowning in despair.” 

Cook went on to say that our nation is challenged to four things: Overcome the negative, reconcile the disconnected, unite the divided, and give common meaning and definition to the disparity. 

“What do we have common among us to offer that is almost universally desired by all of us? What can we do to blend the variety of directions and paths to get us to the same place and yet maintain our creative differences? There’s only one place where we can come together as a common human starting point that has the potential to bind us together, unify our purpose and anchor our commitment. It is in the place called hope.” 

Others participating in the celebration included: Marc Bragin, Jewish Chaplin and Director of Hillel at Kenyon College; Daniel Daley, Co-President of Black Student Union at MVNU; MVNU Goliards, under the direction of Carrie Vail, Assistant Professor of Music at MVNU; Dr. Matthew Starr, Mount Vernon mayor; Leeman Kessler, Gambier mayor; Tavaris Taylor, Assistant Vice President for Intercultural Engagement and Learning at MVNU; and Dr. Christina Jones, Civil Rights Director at MVNU.

For more on MVNU, visit

Mount Vernon Nazarene University is a private, four-year, intentionally Christian teaching university for traditional age students, graduate students, and working adults. With a 327-acre main campus in Mount Vernon, Ohio, MVNU emphasizes academic excellence, spiritual growth, and service to community and church. MVNU offers an affordable education both in-seat and online to nearly 2,000 students from 25 states and 11 foreign countries. 

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