Lawrence celebrates MLK Day with Day of Service, teach-in series; President Carter speaks at the capitol building

MLK banner hanging from the fourth floor balcony of Warch. Photo by Alana Melvin.

Lawrence’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service took place on Monday, Jan. 16, as part of the 32nd Annual Fox Cities Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration. The celebration on Jan. 16 included the Transformational Leaders of Color Breakfast, volunteer service opportunities, an anti-racism and allyship workshop and a virtual event called “What’s Your Life’s Blueprint?” There is also a Justice, Peace and Righteousness Teach-In series running from Jan. 10 to  Feb. 1.  

The Transformational Leaders of Color Breakfast was hosted by Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies Jesús Smith. The event included the following panelists: Cainan Davenport, founder of Taperz Barber Shop, the first Black-owned barbershop in Appleton; Marcus Grignon, also known as Kes pih soh mekek in the Menominee language, founder of Indigenous Think Tank LLC; Connie Vargas, owner of Barlash Aesthetica, a beauty and cosmetic service business in Appleton, which she owns with her sisters; and Alyssa Jones, a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, founder of Alyssa & Anna Fine Jewelry. The business owners talked about dealing with discrimination, the people that helped them succeed and the ways in which they try to exemplify King in their workplaces. Lissette Cruz-Jiménez, Director of the Diversity & Intercultural Center, and Garrett Singer, Special Assistant to President Laurie Carter, also spoke at the event.  

According to Singer, around 500 members of the Lawrence community participated in volunteer opportunities organized by the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE), the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) Committee on Volunteer Engagement (COVE) and Volunteer Fox Cities. The events included making coasters for unhoused people being served by Pillars, a group which provides services to houseless people in the Fox Cities, as well as helping Pillars to prepare a dinner. Volunteers also painted rocks for the residents of Eagle Point Senior Living and wrote positive messages for survivors of violence and abuse on index cards. Volunteers also made toys for dogs, helped to stock the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, put together suicide prevention packets and made appreciation cards for local first responders. 

Seniors Sarah Matthews and Tee Karki make cards that will be given to first responders in the community. Photo by Alana Melvin.

The anti-racism and allyship workshop was hosted by senior Maheen Iftikhar. At the event, Iftikhar led a discussion about the differences between systemic and individual racism, racism in education, healthcare and housing and  what it means to be anti-racist. Iftikhar also talked about Derrick Bell’s theory on racism in the United States.   

The final event of the evening was called “What’s Your Life’s Blueprint,” which is based on a famous King speech. The event was virtual and organized by Cruz-Jiménez, and featured Henry Sanders, Jr., CEO of Madison365, a Madison-based media company. The event also included musical performances from Appleton Area School District student Rosanna Williams and Kyree Allen ‘22. The event was sponsored by Lawrence University, the City of Appleton, United Way Fox Cities, the Appleton Area School District, People of Progression, Covey and the Boys and Girls Club of the Fox Cities.  

The teach-in series kicked off with a lecture on  Jan. 10 from Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies Elliot Ratzman, from Earlham College. Ratzman spoke about solidarity between the Black and Jewish community and the famous relationship between Dr. King and Rabbi Abraham Heschel during the Civil Rights Movement. On  Jan. 18, Assistant Professor of Environmental and Ethnic Studies Sigma Colón hosted the second teach-in event, in which she talked about cross-racial solidarity and the ties between racial, economic and environmental justice.  

On Jan. 25, Associate Professor of Music John Holiday will host the third teach-in event,  a recital of works performed by his studio as well as performances inspired by King. The fourth and final teach-in event will be hosted  Feb. 1, by Stephanie Jones, Associate Professor of Education at Grinnell College. Her teach-in will be on the topic of anti-Blackness in schools and how to combat it.  

Super Senior Shirley Xu makes a dog toy that will be donated to Saving Paws. Photo by Alana Melvin.

While Lawrence was hosting its service opportunities, President Laurie Carter was the keynote speaker at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration in Madison at the Wisconsin State Capitol. She recalled being shocked to hear about King’s assassination and learning about racial injustice at a young age. Carter is from New Jersey, but her great-grandfather was a sharecropper. He was one of many Black people who, after slavery was abolished and reconstruction efforts were sabotaged, was forced into an exploitative system of tenant farming. She told the story of visiting his house in Macon, Ga., at the age of 16. She spoke about the importance of education in living up to King’s dream. Carter spoke about raising a Black child in the United States, and her decision to not send him to public school due to concerns about discrimination.  

Carter specifically recalled a story in which her son was falsely accused of drunk driving by campus police when he first went to college, and how she called on the lessons she learned from King in that moment.  

“While it was not a shock the first time that our son got stopped and interrogated by the police, it was a shock that it occurred on the night of my first inauguration on the campus in Pennsylvania [Shippensburg University] where I had just become president, while he, a college freshman, drove my two nieces back to their hotel on the other side of campus,” said Carter. “The injustice of the moment was intensified several months later, when I was informed by a faculty member that she was told…that our son had been stopped for drunk driving. The injustice of that lie stung more than the act itself. At that moment, I relied on Dr. King who has continued to be, throughout my life, a spiritual mentor, and I stood firm in his belief that justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”  

Painted rocks from the rock painting event. These rocks will go to Eagle Point Senior Living and students can go around downtown and place the rocks randomly to give the people of Appleton inspiring messages. Photo by Alana Melvin.

Carter talked further about honoring the legacy of King, by acting against injustice and said that justice doesn’t come without sacrifice and struggle. She credited the work of King and his contemporaries with the fact that she is in the position she is in today.  

Cruz-Jiménez also credited King’s work with her ability to be in the position she is as a Latina a Guatemalan immigrant.  

“I have a lot of admiration for Dr. King,” Cruz-Jiménez said. “It wasn’t just about this peaceful protesting, it was really about garnering opportunities and expanding the fight for justice for everyone. Honoring shouldn’t only happen in January; his legacy really does extend to the privilege that I’m able to be here today, that I’m able to hold this position…as a woman of color, as a Latina, a lot of what he did opened that door for me…it isn’t about honoring him only on one specific day…the work that I continuously do is [in honor of] him.” 

Cruz-Jiménez and Singer feel that it’s important that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not seen as simply a day off, but as a day to serve others in the spirit of honoring King. They both agree that canceling classes is a way to make it easier for students and other members of the community to get involved. Singer characterized the holiday as a “day on” while Cruz-Jiménez feels it is an important opportunity to give back to the community.