For some it may be a day off from work, but for hundreds of East Carolina University students, faculty and staff, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be a day of service.
The university’s Leadership and Service-Learning office has planned a day of volunteer opportunities in observance of the Jan. 18 holiday, starting with a 9 a.m. breakfast at the Ledonia Wright Cultural Center and closing with a reflection activity at 3:30 p.m. in Mendenhall Student Center Room 244.
“I remember growing up and being excited to have another day off in January, but I wanted to understand why we get the day off and who we are remembering,” said Summer Saunders, one of the student leaders for the event.
“MLK Day of Service takes Dr. King’s vision and puts it into action,” said Jade Umberger, AmeriCorps VISTA with ECU’s Volunteer and Service-Learning Center. “Dr. King’s dream was to see every citizen working together to make the world a better place for all, and the best place to start is right here in Greenville.”
Eleven groups have signed up to participate, partnering with local organizations such as JOY Soup Kitchen, Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, Rebuilding Together, Boys and Girls Club of Pitt County – Jarvis and Jack Minges units, Golden Living Center and Making Pitt Fit. Projects include packaging and sorting food, weeding and mulching, visiting retirement home residents and litter cleanup. Individual volunteers are also invited to participate, and there is room to accommodate up to 270 volunteers.
College of Business graduate student Don Philyaw removes tile at the Salvation Army’s Family Store.
“So often students are caught up in the ECU bubble, never wandering too far off campus, but MLK Day of Service gives the chance to explore and learn more about the Greenville community while giving a hand to those who need it. Dr. King’s legacy lives on in active citizens and volunteers who continue to work towards a world of beloved community,” Umberger added.
Student leader Roderick Hall said volunteering has helped give him perspective. "I’ve been volunteering since I entered high school. I thought I knew what it meant to dedicate my time to others, but my experience with service at ECU has continuously shown me just how wrong I was,” he said.
“Participating in the service opportunities offered by the university allows you to see how privileged you are in this society, while helping break down the preconceived notions you have about a particular group of students. Most importantly, service helps you figure out what your aspirations are in life, or understand why you’re pursuing the passion you have,” Hall said.
Khiana Wyatt, who will be volunteering with her sorority sisters from Zeta Phi Beta, said volunteering pushes students outside of their comfort zones.
“Dr. King said, ‘Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love,’” quoted Wyatt.
“We want the students to learn why service is important. The reflection ceremony focuses on that and why students should continue to serve beyond this day and serve for reasons other than class credit,” she said. “Once they learn the importance of volunteer work some may actually go on and continue to serve others in their everyday lives, thus carrying on Dr. King’s legacy.”
Several other events are being held in conjunction with the holiday.
Greenville Utilities Commission, Pitt County and Suddenlink will sponsor the 19th annual Community Unity Breakfast at Harvey Hall in the ECU Murphy Center from 7:30-9 a.m. on Jan. 18. N.C. Senator Don Davis will be the guest speaker for this event.
The Ledonia Wright Cultural Center will host a speaker at 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 in celebration of Dr. King. Poet, educator and activist Sonia Sanchez, a prominent writer and speaker, was on the forefront of the Black Studies movement and taught the first course in the country on black women. The event is free, but tickets are required and can be picked up in Mendenhall Student Center.
Sister Sonia Sanchez, a prominent writer of the Black Arts movement, will speak at 7 p.m. on Jan. 20 at Wright Auditorium. (Contributed photo by Keppler Speakers.)
Sanchez has written more than 16 books including poetry, stories and plays, and has been featured on albums by such artists as Diana Ross and Talib Kweli. A contributing editor of Black Scholar and The Journal of African Studies, she is also the recipient of numerous honors and awards for her writing and service.
The week of MLK events will wrap up with a forum titled “What’s in a Name? Memorials and Historical Memory” at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 26 in the Hendrix Theater. Gerald Prokopowicz, ECU professor of history, will moderate a discussion featuring Dr. Derek Alderman, head of the Department of Geography at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville; and Dr. Alfred Brophy, professor of law at the University of North Carolina School of Law. The forum is part of the Voyages of Discovery Lecture Series, and the 2015-2016 lectures are free and open to the public.