MLK Day of Service returns Jan. 17, programming largely remote

The annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will take place at Lawrence again on Monday, Jan. 17. The Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) will be hosting events in partnership with Volunteer Fox Cities, a nonprofit organization that connects people with volunteer opportunities in Appleton and the surrounding areas, to commemorate the late civil rights leader.  

According to senior Amellalli Alvarez, Service Coordinator at CCE, the MLK Day of Service is an opportunity for students to get involved with the wider Lawrence community and see the ways in which volunteering and being active in the community can directly impact people’s lives. The day also provides a way to honor King’s legacy of community, equality and activism, CCE Director Garrett Singer said.  

To that end, the CCE will be holding a mix of virtual, on-campus and off-campus volunteer opportunities, including a letter-writing event to contact members of Congress about the Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline, which runs partially through Wisconsin and Michigan. The pipeline’s expansion has been shut down by Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, but Enbridge has continued to build it. This has been opposed by the 12 tribes that make up the Odawa, Ojibwe and Potawatomi Confederacy and protested by activists in the progressive, environmentalist and indigenous communities, as reported by various local Michigan news outlets.  

Events will also include sending thank-you cards to Planned Parenthood and writing postcards to senior citizens in the Brewster Village Nursing Home. 

There will also be virtual lectures earlier in the day, including a lecture from Environmental and Ethnic Studies Professor Sigma Colón on King’s legacy, fighting against oppression, inequality in urban spaces and the future of our environment. 

The day will end with the 31st Annual Fox Cities MLK Day Celebration, a celebration of King which usually happens in the Memorial Chapel but will take place online this year. There will be a keynote address from Judge Yadira Rein, the first person of color to serve as a judge in Wisconsin’s 8th Judicial District, which covers Green Bay, Appleton and Door County.  

In the past, MLK Day was the biggest event of the year for CCE. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, MLK Day 2021 had to be entirely virtual, and only saw roughly 250 students participating, down from 400–500 in previous years, according to Alvarez. 

This year, lectures were supposed to be in person, with appropriate mitigation measures taking place, but the announcement that all campus activities had to be virtual due to the omicron wave forced them back online. The only in-person events will be the off-campus service opportunities, where N95 masks and gloves will be both required and provided.