MACON – Mercer University's 10th annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium will be centered on the theme "Looking Back and Moving Forward: 50 Years of Integration at Mercer," which has been – and will continue to be – the focus of a number of events on campus during the current academic year.
The symposium, which will be held Feb. 18-19, will welcome Sam Oni, Mercer's first admitted black student, as its keynote speaker. An opening banquet will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center with dinner and an address by Oni. The next morning at 8:30 a.m., Judge William C. Randall will give a speech during breakfast in the Fellowship Hall of Centenary United Methodist Church. The symposium will continue with a second address by Oni at 10 a.m. in Newton Chapel, followed by a panel discussion at 11 a.m. A noon luncheon will conclude the symposium, along with a response by Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer.
Admission to all events is free and open to the public, though reservations are requested for meals. To make a reservation, contact Trish Dunaway at (478) 475-9506 or firstname.lastname@example.org by Feb. 14. For more information on the symposium, visit https://community.mercer.edu/beloved/.
"There is even more enthusiastic anticipation building for this year's symposium, as it flows naturally with the other events marking Mercer's 50th year of welcoming all races within its student body," said Dr. John Marson Dunaway, founder of the symposium and director of Mercer Commons, a center for faith and vocation at the University.
"Student-faculty groups are reading the story of the events surrounding Mr. Oni's matriculation and look forward to interacting with him. Our Paired Clergy initiative is growing increasingly active in bringing people together to advance the Beloved Community in Macon."
Oni, originally from the West African country of Ghana, was encouraged to apply to several American universities, including Mercer, by alumnus and missionary Harris Mobley. Mercer was the only school not to immediately reject Oni's application, and after a special committee called by then-President Rufus Harris deliberated over Oni's acceptance for more than a year, he was admitted to the University and enrolled in September of 1963.
Oni graduated from Mercer with a bachelor's degree in sociology, and went on to graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, where he studied journalism. After earning his master's degree, he returned to Africa and started Project Ploughshare, a non-government organization focusing on rural development, in Nigeria.
Dr. Dunaway, professor of French and interdisciplinary studies at Mercer, founded the symposium in 2005 as a way to help the church demonstrate unity through collaboration across denominational and racial boundaries based on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s concept of the "beloved community." The symposium also works to foster follow-up activities between black and white churches, through such activities as sister-church relationships, pulpit exchanges, partnerships in community development and service, and the formation of action groups for specific issues.