By: Hali Harden, Staff Reporter
An 8-foot bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled Feb. 28 in a ceremony that brought the UNF community together in Peace Plaza.
Students and visitors crowded the plaza as guest speakers presented the statue. Speakers included the Director of the Intercultural Center for PEACE Oupa Seane, UNF President John Delaney, Student Body President Matt Brockelman and Co-Chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Statue Committee Cleve Warren.
Each representative regarded King’s legacy and said the statue, which is the only Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. statue on a Florida campus, is a good reminder for students to learn and expand on his purpose.
“This statue isn’t just a monument into the past, it’s a beacon into the future,” Brockelman said.
The UNF Chamber Choir performed during the ceremony. Its final song repeated the phrase “we shall overcome someday,” to which the audience chimed in.
Bishop Rudolph W. McKissick Sr. concluded the ceremony with a prayer. Guests stirred in conversation afterward during the reception.
Asante Smalling, a UNF sociology student, said she believes the statue adds diversity to campus in an area where a statue of Gandhi also lies.
“He’s right across from someone who is very big in India for his efforts, and now we have someone who is a part of civil rights, and I think that’s very important to have that in the middle of campus to show that we’re interested in diversity and equality on this campus,” Smalling said.
Creating an Icon
Plans for the King statue to be part of the UNF campus began nearly five years ago.
“You just don’t consult with the artist and have a statue built and bring it on campus. There are steps to it,” Seane said. “Monies have to be raised, and then comes the harder part: to get approval from the family, then comes another part, once you’ve gotten approval from the family, the design factor.”
UNF Vice President of Student and International Affairs Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez said the total cost of the statue was about $32,000.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Statue Committee was formed to raise the funds. Members included Gonzalez, Seane, Delaney and several other community members.
Through fundraising and personal donations, committee members raised the money required for the King statue.
After raising enough money, Gonzalez contacted The King Center to request allowance from King’s family to build the statue in his likeness. Gonzalez told King’s family esteemed Indian artist Jasu Shilpi would make the sculpture.
Shilpi, known as The Bronze Woman of India, sculpted the bronze Mahatma Gandhi statue that the Gandhi Memorial Society donated to UNF in 2006. She has also created Gandhi statues similar to the one at UNF in other U.S. cities, as well as in Europe and Malaysia.
Shilpi started sculpting after her husband died. She learned the trade while helping him sculpt. After his death, she began creating statues as a means to support herself and her two children.
Shilpi made a clay bust of King, which she presented to King’s grandson. After reviewing Shilpi’s abilities, they agreed to allow UNF to erect the statue on campus.
Before Shilpi constructed the sculpture, she sent clay models for Gonzalez and Seane to approve. Each member of the committee analyzed and agreed upon everything from King’s eyes, ears, nose and weight before the process continued, Seane said.
Shilpi said, through translation from Gandhi Memorial Society Chairman Ramesh Vashi, that she was delighted to create the Gandhi and King statues for UNF.
“They are both like to me great leaders, and I want to [thank] the university for giving me the opportunity to do the MLK. I am very happy for that, and I appreciate and thank the University,” Shilpi said.
Gonzalez said he thought the King statue would be a good fit on campus.
“Because of our values, again, what we have of civility, respect, dignity, just a number of different things that our values are about and that Martin Luther King embodies,” Gonzalez said. “It just made sense.”
Seane said even as he helped set up the statue Feb. 20, students were already asking questions and learning about King. He said the icon not only adds aesthetic value to campus but can also be used as an aid to enlighten, educate and advise.
Seane also hoped visitors who attended the reception after the unveiling took a moment to reflect on some of King’s legacies.
“There are conflicts going on around the world, you know. We have this, hopefully it won’t happen, but we have this war where Islam might hit Iran. What would Dr. King have said about that?” Seane said. “We have problems in Darfur and other parts of the world, so we just want people to reflect on King’s message of peace, nonviolence and try to solve the problems of the world diplomatically, instead of going to war.”
Email Hali Harden at [email protected]
Check out OTVs coverage of the unveiling: