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MLK Day event seeks to renew spirit of empowerment at Bethel and beyond

September 11th, 2017

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – This year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Bethel College will focus a lens on the past in order to inform the future.

The annual event takes place Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center and is free and open to everyone.

Regina Shands Stoltzfus, assistant professor of peace, justice and conflict studies at Goshen (Indiana) College, is the keynote speaker, on the topic “Renewing the Spirit of Empowerment: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

As in past years, a freewill offering will be taken – however, it will be designated in a new way, said Gabriel Fonseca, coordinator of student activities and engagement, who organized the planning committee of six students.

“The offering has always been given somewhere in the [Newton] community,” Fonseca said. “But we are now starting a Martin Luther King Jr. Day Scholarship and the offering will go to help fund that.

“The scholarship will be given to [a freshman or sophomore] from a minority background,” Fonseca continued. “Whoever receives it will help lead the planning for next year’s MLK Day program and also for other diversity events in that school year.

“The MLK Day planning committee will pick the recipient. The students on this year’s committee [came up with this idea because they] wanted to make more of an impact on campus with Martin Luther King Day.”

Members of the 2017 planning committee are seniors Mareike Bergen, Rachel Green and Zach Preheim and juniors Mikala Wertz and JDaijon Sumpter.

In addition to Shands Stoltzfus’ talk, the committee is “working on some kind of visual representation of the ‘I have a dream speech,’” Fonseca said, “to really focus on ‘where it all started,’ which is the theme for this event.

“The idea of ‘renewing the spirit of empowerment’ came from the planning committee looking back at [King’s 1960] Bethel speech,” he continued. “We tried to pull in #BethelLivesMatter – we want to help people value the idea of standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, and [recall] what Bethel used to be like, and how we can empower others and bring that sense of empowerment back to students.”

The program will also include music by Wertz, poems and performances from other students, and a version of the #PieceUnited student art exhibit that was on display at Kauffman Museum in the fall semester.

Shands Stoltzfus was picked as a speaker after Fonseca brainstormed a list of names with Peter Goerzen, campus pastor, at the beginning of the school year and then sent those names to a cross-section of students.

Those who had met Shands Stoltzfus last spring at the Intercollegiate Peace Fellowship annual conference at Goshen College “resonated well with her message,” said Fonseca, “so she came in at the top of people’s list of choices.”

Shands Stoltzfus attended Goshen College and has a B.A. in English from Cleveland State University. She earned a master’s degree in biblical studies from Ashland (Ohio) Theological Seminary and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in theology, ethics and contemporary culture at Chicago Theological Seminary.

She joined the Goshen College faculty in 2002 and teaches courses in race, class and ethnic relations; personal violence and healing; peacemaking; women and gender studies; biblical studies; and transforming conflict and violence.

Shands Stoltzfus previously served as an associate pastor at Lee Heights Community Church in Cleveland, Ohio, as campus pastor at Goshen College, as minister of urban ministries with Mennonite Mission Network, as staff associate for urban peacemaking with Mennonite Conciliation Service and as director of admissions at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana. She co-founded the Damascus Road anti-racism education program, now called Roots of Justice Anti-Oppression Program, and regularly leads anti-racism workshops, and is co-author of Set Free: A Journey Toward Solidarity Against Racism (Herald Press, 2001).

Last February, the State of Indiana Civil Rights Commission presented Shands Stoltzfus with the 2016 Spirit of Justice Award, its highest honor, created to recognize Hoosiers who, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream, have devoted their personal and professional efforts to creating social justice in Indiana.

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2016'17. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.