As Director of Communication 110: Introduction to Public Speaking at NC State University, I have had the pleasure of using various iterations of the vMLK Project in our curriculum since 2015. Every section of Public Speaking uses the vMLK Project assets for between one and two weeks, depending on the decisions made by the instructor of record. Every class prepares for the listening experience using the tools available on the project website, then attends an in person or virtual shared listening experience of the speech, and finally has discussion, activities, and various assignments in the class.
Public Speaking has a standardized curriculum for major assignments, so we schedule the vMLK listening experience to occur before our advocacy speeches towards the end of the semester. The students have already done a lot of work on research, writing, and speaking, so this speech helps to develop their already growing skills by connecting classroom speaking more directly to civic participation. This speech helps to create the understanding, inspiration, and goals for our advocacy speeches. As we know, Dr. King’s legacy is a history of service in action. Students often know of the legacy of Dr. King in an abstract sense, as a person of courage and conviction, but not necessarily as someone who was deeply connected with day-to-day life. This experience reminds students that Dr. King crafted a legacy by his commitment to ongoing actions, and the students to whom he is referring are actual people who took courageous and creative action for justice. This reminds students that movements are a series of moments, and in the terms of this speech, now is one of their moments. They can use their voices for issues that matter to them!
Through the vMLK project, we get a better understanding of what advocacy is. Dr. King is speaking in community, and we encourage our students to speak alongside and within the communities they are part of and care about. The vMLK project allows us an embodied experience of being in community at multiple levels. We share the experience of listening, and we witness to the listening and response of others. King also has both intended and implied audiences, those with whom he is directly speaking and those who he hopes will be impacted by his words. We discuss the content and delivery for both audiences, which reminds our students that their classroom and campus speeches are in conversation with wider discourses. Students get the chance to engage in discussion, and to share activities that help the public speaking curriculum come alive.
Dr. King’s thinking, writing, and speaking are so rich with rhetorical traditions and have such a vibrant verbal, vocal, and physical repertoire, that the vMLK project allows us to explore. Because they are re-embodied in Mr. Blanks excellent performance, we experience them as re-membered, history that returns to the body and is revived through performance. This allows students to imagine themselves as existing within a historical context and as inheritors of a legacy that expects excellence of them. At the beginning, they are unaware of how much his words still live today, but by the end they are living them.
Cite this page as: Nelson, Elizabeth. Virtual Martin Luther King, Jr. Project. 2022. Retrieved from https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu/