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MLK Day Celebration CANCELLED

Published Monday, January 08, 2024

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (public domain image)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (public domain image)

UPDATE 01/08/24: Breakfast and panel are cancelled. Service opportunities are still available. Please sign up here:



“Stand Up for Justice” is the theme for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2024 at Southwest Minnesota State University.

The MLK Day events have traditionally focused on service to the community. This year is no different. The public is invited to a breakfast at 7:30 a.m. in the SMSU Conference Center Upper Level.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., a panel of speakers will discuss “Understanding Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Three Evils of Society through the Israeli-Hamas Conflict.” Panelists include Dr. Tom Williford, Ms. Michele Knife Sterner, and Mr. Taher Herzallah, with Dr. Jeff Kolnick as moderator.

Dr. Tom Williford is a professor of history at SMSU; Ms. Michele Knife Sterner is the associate director for Access Opportunity Success at SMSU; Mr. Taher Herzallah is the director of outreach & community organizing for American Muslims for Palestine (AMP); and Dr. Jeff Kolnick is a professor of history at SMSU. Additional information on the panelists is included below.

Service opportunities are available from January 11-February 8. Programs include Food4Kids meal packing, volunteering, and a food donation drive for the Mustang Market, the University’s food pantry. Mustang Market will be collecting food and personal care items. Cash donations are always welcome.

Those unable to attend the events but want to support service to the SMSU community are asked to donate to the Mustang Market.

MLK Day events are sponsored by Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Access Opportunity Success (AOS), Office of the Assistant Vice President of Equity & Inclusion/Campus Diversity Officer, African Student Association, and Black Student Union.

The program, including breakfast, is free and open to the public. Pre-registration for the event as well as links to volunteer sign-ups can be found here:

For more information, contact the SMSU Office of Diversity and Inclusion: 507-537-6169.

Panel participants:

Dr. Jeff Kolnick, Moderator

Jeff Kolnick grew up in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and attended Fullerton Community College, UCLA, and UC Davis, where he received his PhD in 1995. In 1992, he moved to Minnesota where he began teaching history at Southwest Minnesota State University. He has written on 19th century farmer-labor politics in Minnesota and the modern civil rights movement. In 1997, he helped found the Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy. He is married to Rosa Tock and is looking forward to retiring from full time teaching at the end of 2024.   

Michele Knife Sterner, Panelist

Michele Knife Sterner is the Associate Director of Access Opportunity Success (AOS) at Southwest Minnesota State University. For the last sixteen years, Michele has coordinated a multi-faceted program that provides academic and culturally based support to underrepresented/underserved students. In her role, she organizes and implements diversity-based programs to the campus community and Southwestern Minnesota region. Michele’s work experience has aligned with Anti-racism pedagogy from teaching American Indian students’ language, culture, and history to co-teaching multiple sections of a Human Relations course. In addition, Michele is currently serving as Co-Chair for the City of Marshall’s Diversity Equity & Inclusion Commission, Marshall Public Schools American Indian Parent Committee and served as President and treasurer for the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council. Michele is the recipient of the Cowan Award (2019) and Campus Compact Presidents’ Civic Engagement Leadership award (2021) which are nominated by colleagues for her outstanding service to SMSU and local community.  Michele has a strong sense of family, enjoys playing sports, making music, and watching her children and niece and nephews’ endeavors.

Taher Herzallah, Panelist

Raised in Southern California, Mr. Herzallah came of age in a vibrant Muslim and Palestinian activism scene and was the president of MSA West and his local Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at UC Riverside where he completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and International Affairs. As the director of Outreach & Community Organizing for American Muslims for Palestine, Taher facilitates national coalition-building and expands the organization’s grassroots presence across the US.

Mr. Herzallah is one of the ‘Irvine 11,’ a group of students who were arrested and prosecuted for expressing their constitutionally protected rights of free speech and political dissent when they walked out of a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UC Irvine in 2010. Mr.Herzallah was also one of six people arrested for protesting the appointment of David Friedman as US ambassador to Israel at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in February 2017.

Mr. Herzallah is currently a Ph.D. student in American studies at the University of Minnesota and his research interests focus on Muslim and Palestinian political and social activism in the context of the ongoing settler-colonization of Palestine and ongoing military-style police warfare against people of color in the US.

Dr. Tom Williford, Panelist

Dr. Tom Williford a Professor of History and Chair of the Social Science Department at SMSU. He earned his PhD at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 2000 - 2005 PhD in History, August 2005. He received a master of arts degree in History from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, Colombia 1997 – 2001. He attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 1981- 1985 and earned a BA in History from the College of Arts and Sciences. Undergraduate studies in history focused on Modern Europe and the US since 1865.

Dr. Williford is a Fulbright scholar and spent 12 years living and working in Bogota, Columbia. He has published a book Laureano Gómez and the Masons, as well as a number of articles and book chapters. He has presented papers at professional conferences across the United States and in Colombia, Israel and Canada. He is a native of Schroon Lake, New York.  

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