The program is free and open to the public

The life, legacy, and promise of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will be celebrated with a free program Jan. 15 at Delaware State University.

“Celebrate the Dream: A Day On, Not a Day Off,” begins at noon in the DSU Theater, Education and Humanities Building.

It will feature works by Amillion the Poet, a performance by the Inner City Cultural League’s Sankofa African Dancers organized by former city council member Reuben Salters and an address by historian Phyllis Slade Martin.

This year’s observance marks a half-century since King lost his life in the struggle for civil rights. He was assassinated April 4, 1968.

The location is notable because following King’s death the university -- then Delaware State College -- was the site of a protest that ultimately resulted in students occupying the administration building. The school shut for the semester with a temporary occupation by the Delaware National Guard.

Keynote speaker Slade Martin holds a doctorate in U.S. history with a concentration in African and African American history. She has worked at several universities, including 12 years at George Mason, where she organized a number of King commemorations.

She met Salters through a mutual friend.

“When he approached me about coming to speak, I said I’d love to,” Slade Martin said.

In her talk, Slade Martin will focus on what’s happened in America since King’s untimely death.

“I want to look at the last 50 years and see what’s happened in addressing race and social justice in the United States,” she said. “What I plan to do is raise the question Dr. King asked in his final book: ‘Where do we go from here? Is it chaos or community?’” The events of the past five decades and more recent incidents make that question even more relevant, she said.

“We don’t just want to celebrate Dr. King,” Slade Martin said. “We look at the next step, where do we go from here.”

Amillion, aka Amillion Mayfield, plans a modern-day perspective on King’s works.

“I’m humbled to be giving a performance at DSU’s ceremony,” he said in a call from his current tour in the Dominican Republic. He’ll return to Delaware the day before the DSU event.

“As an artist and a poet, I’ve been inspired by Dr. King’s dream and legacy,” he said. “It’s important to honor history and make it and I feel I can be a bridge to connect younger generations to his generation.”

Salters said this year is significant, not necessarily because of the anniversary but because of the need for people to be more aware of their rights.

These are the same rights King fought for and ones Salters fears could be endangered through apathy or ignorance.

“We’re aware because we’ve had a black president, but now things could come to a standstill or be reversing,” he said.

“I’m particularly interested in promoting it because of the words of Dr. King and the people who followed and supported him.”

Salters considers the program’s theme vitally important.

“It’s a day for thinking about how we can improve our country and our way of living,” he said. “You know how they say ‘a rising tide lifts all boats;’ here a rising tide lifts all boats, it doesn’t matter if they’re white, black or green.

“It’s an awareness of the value of promoting equality and opportunity in our government for all our citizens,” Salters said.

As a young Air Force second lieutenant, Salters was stationed in Alabama and attended the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he heard King preach on several occasions.

“It was just a stone’s throw from the capital of the Confederacy,” he recalled. “He was a great preacher and was just getting started. The civil rights movement and his involvement was really picking up and so I got to know what all the fuss was about.”