Community celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Photos by Sarah Navy.

Keynote speaker Simon Balto is a professor of African American history at the University of Iowa.
Carla Manns, winner of the Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Leadership Award and Pa Lee Moua, winner of the MLK Educator award.
The four student winners of the Dr. MLK Jr. student essay contest.

On Monday, Jan. 20, members of the Lawrence community engaged in a variety of service opportunities for the 17th Annual Lawrence University Day of Service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Although this day was not recognized as a day of service at Lawrence until 2003, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service in 1994. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the only federal holiday that is observed as a national day of service, and it is often referred to as a “day on” as opposed to a “day off.”

Many Lawrence students, faculty and staff engaged in this “day on” by participating in off-campus volunteering opportunities and by attending on-campus teach-ins. Teach-ins were staggered throughout the morning of Jan. 20, across campus. Each of the informal lectures focused on King’s message of equal rights for all.

Beginning at 9 a.m., Associate Vice President of Finance Jenna Stone led a presentation titled “Anti-Racism 101: Key Practices for White People in a Multicultural Community.” Stone is the co-convener of the Anti-Racism White Affinity Group, which is a gathering of Lawrence faculty and staff who identify as white and participate in personal and professional development to better understand and challenge racism.

Also at 9 a.m., Adriana McCleer led her talk, “Advancing Racial Equity in Programming.” McCleer is the Community Partnerships Supervisor at Appleton Public Library and her role centers around overseeing programs, community engagement, outreach and partnerships related to teens and adults.

At 10 a.m., Instructor of Gender Studies Helen Boyd Kramer began her discussion called “Black + Trans: Intersectional Violence.” Instructor of Music Education Leila Pertl also led her presentation, “Creativity at the Heart of Inclusive Community,” at this time.

Beginning at 11 a.m., Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies Jesus Smith led his discussion titled “Anti-Racist Strategies and Solutions.” Smith’s work largely focuses on the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality and how that impacts health. 

Staff Counselor Krystal Light also led her discussion at this time. Light’s discussion, “Stigma and Disparity within Mental Health Treatment,” fit well into her dedication to de-stigmatize mental illnesses.

The teach-ins were spread across campus with locations including residence halls, the Warch Campus Center and the Diversity and Intercultural Center. These informal lectures ranged in their intensity of topic from introductory to advanced.

After learning about the struggles that the community faces, many people decided to give back by participating in an off-campus service opportunity. Volunteers gathered in the Somerset Room of the Warch Campus Center in the afternoon before departing to their specific location.

Before dismissing the different groups, Director of the Volunteer and Community Service Programs Kristi Hill shared some words about the day. She explained that, on this day, the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change sought to “celebrate the contributions of a man who taught the virtuous ideals of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and, of course, service.”

Hill continued, “Our goal today is to empower the individuals we are serving, strengthen our communities and build bridges to get us closer to Dr. King’s vision.” Hill then introduced the Service Corps Access to Education Program Coordinator, junior Papo Morales.

Morales informed the room that his vision of the day was not actually one of service. He preferred to refer to it as a day of support. Morales continued, “How fruitful and amazing it is just to support someone else.”

Morales then provided questions for the volunteers to consider as they went out into the community. He posed the following questions: What can I do to help? Why is it that we are choosing today to volunteer? How are you different after today? Volunteers were also encouraged to be mindful of three words throughout the day: love, community and kindness. With these sentiments in mind, the volunteers were then dismissed to their locations.

Two groups went to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley where volunteers facilitated discussions about King’s messages through literature. After reading books that centered around King’s vision, children and volunteers created a community art project that represented the theme of the day. This opportunity was supported by the Lawrence Assistance Reaching Youth program, the Volunteers in Tutoring at Lawrence program and the Little Vikes.

At Feeding America, volunteers supported the food bank by assisting with packaging, labeling, sorting and cleaning projects. Through volunteer support, the food bank works with a network of hunger relief partners to distribute more than 18.3 million meals a year to people in eastern Wisconsin. This opportunity was supported by the Lawrence University Food Recovery Network.

Volunteers also ventured to the Fox Valley Humane Society where they helped with various projects, including dishwashing and laundry. They were also given time to socialize with the animals at the shelter. This opportunity was supported by People for Animal Welfare.

At Riverview Gardens, volunteers assisted with land management tasks and hoop-house winterization, and worked in the newly constructed greenhouse. Riverview Gardens is a community space as well as an urban farm that provides on-the-job training to people with barriers to stable employment. This opportunity was supported by the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden.

A group also went to Brewster Village, which provides short-term rehabilitation and long-term nursing home services to individuals in the community. Volunteers worked together with villagers to make gifts of appreciation for others, including door decorations, homemade flowers and letters of kindness. This opportunity was supported by the Building Intergenerational Relationships group. 

With the various teach-ins and volunteering opportunities, the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change sought to provide a gamut of possibilities for students, staff and faculty to engage in the day of service. 

The day culminated in a celebration of King’s life in the annual Fox Cities MLK Jr. Day celebration held in the Memorial Chapel on Monday night. The event featured keynote speaker Simon Balto, an African American history professor at the University of Iowa. Balto’s talk emphasized King’s radical ideas regarding economic equality and how that is often forgotten today. 

In addition to the keynote address, the celebration recognized the essays of local students who won the Dr. MLK Jr. student essay contest and the achievements of outstanding local educators and activists.