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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Participants march as part of Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Westminster College in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014.

SALT LAKE CITY — Classes were canceled Monday in observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but Westminster College student Shante Royster was happy to be on campus.

Westminster held its third annual march and celebration to commemorate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement.

"We're celebrating with the community of Sugar House," Royster said while walking along 1300 East with other students and community members.

Those in the march held signs depicting King and chanted, "The people united will never be divided. MLK led the way. Stand up for social justice today."

"It's significant to say that we all are in this together," said Royster, a member of a student group called the African-American Intellectual Union. "Everyone has their personal struggles, so it's nice that all of us can join in together and be a part of something."

Such was the theme of the Monday's event, which began with remarks from students and faculty on the steps of Westminster's Converse Hall.

"We're gathered here on this cool, crisp morning in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his achievement and his sacrifices for the cause of African-Americans, civil rights and equality," said Tamara Stevenson, an assistant professor of speech and communications at Westminster. "There is still much work to be done. So as you stand here this morning to serve and march, extend this one day of service to insist, resist and persist toward social justice and fairness."

According to Royster, students will participate in a service project later this week in the spirit of the holiday.

Other community members saw the holiday as an opportunity for service. Jeannie Bloodworth spent her day off sorting clothes donated to the Neighborhood House, a day care in Salt Lake City for underprivileged children.

"I think helping our communities is always important," Bloodworth said. "It makes you feel good when you're helping other people."

Following the march, a celebration program was held in the Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business Auditorium at the college. The program featured music from the George Brown Quintet and other musicians, as well as speakers from the Black Storytellers of Utah.

According college provost Cid Seidelman, the event exemplified Westminster's connection to the principles embodied in the civil rights movement.

"Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a day for us to reflect, plan and reaffirm our own commitment to principles of justice and freedom for all. This is a journey far from the end," Seidelman said. "Westminster supports this journey of justice and freedom, and today's event recognizes and celebrates the past, present and future contributions of Dr. King and social reformers everywhere."

The program also featured segments from King's 1963 speech "I Have a Dream."

"Dr. King's life bears witness to the struggle for freedom from oppression and the hope for justice for generations to come," said Marian Howe-Taylor, with the Black Storytellers of Utah. "Martin Luther King Jr. Day is not just to recognize the life and death of Martin Luther King, but to acknowledge his life as representative of all people who struggle for freedom and justice around the world."

Author and independent filmmaker Danny Schechter, who said he met King early in his career, reflected on his experiences at the event.

"Dr. King was a fighter on many levels of social justice. He was a person of incredible principle. I was privileged to meet him. I was part of the organizing team for the March on Washington in 1963," he said.

Schechter said he was especially moved by the Westminster students' march along 1300 East.

"I still feel the spirit of Dr. King," he said. "I found it in the streets of Salt Lake earlier today."

Email: mjacobsen@deseretnews.com