News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 21, 2014

‘WE THE PEOPLE’: The means for reflection

Rose-Hulman combines art contest, banquet, ‘I Have a Dream’ wall in a celebration of King’s legacy

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — For Donnita Robinson, a chemical engineering major at Rose-Hulman, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is opportunity to remember those who helped her get where she is today.

Robinson, current president of the Rose chapter of the National Association of Black Engineers, was one of about 90 people to attend the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. Student Leadership Dinner at Rose Monday night.

“It’s a way to say ‘Thank you,’” Robinson said of attending the dinner, something she has done each of her four years at Rose-Hulman.

Each year, Rose-Hulman, one of the nation’s top engineering schools, honors Martin Luther King Jr. with a special dinner and campus-wide events, such as an art contest and the “I have a dream” wall.

The keynote speaker for this year’s dinner, Jeffrey A. Johnson Sr., is the senior pastor of the Eastern Star Church in Indianapolis, a church with several different locations and thousands of members. Speaking before the dinner, Johnson said he believes that some of King’s work has been completed – especially in terms of laws – but work remains within people’s hearts.

“We all claim God as our father, but not each other as brothers and sisters,” he said. His message is that we must start with our relationship with God and then work on expressing or acting on that relationship with each other, he said.

“I don’t think we can get [racial unity] outside of God,” Johnson said.

Johnson, a native of Indianapolis, who, before becoming a pastor at the Eastern Star Church, served as a pastor at the St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Terre Haute from 1985 to 1988, he said. He was then just in his early 20s, he recalled. He became a pastor at the Eastern Star Church at age 25.

Collin Coker, a junior at Rose-Hulman and member of the NSBE, said King is an inspiration to him in many ways, but especially for his courage to stand up for what he believed to be right. MLK showed that it’s okay to “blaze your own trail,” he said.

Monday’s was the first MLK dinner attended by Rose’s new president, James Conwell, who started his new job in May. Marking the holiday with the annual dinner is an important part of celebrating the diversity that improves the educational experience at Rose, Conwell said.

Having a diverse student population in terms of race, ethnicity and nationality is “vastly important,” Conwell said before the dinner.

Robinson, speaking to the dinner audience, noted that King was a man who put on his pants one leg at a time like the rest of us. But he also worked to inspire and bring about change, she said.

“He held on to his beliefs and inspired change,” Robinson said. King and others worked to bring about change and to open doors for others, she said. “Now, let’s move forward from where they left off.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or