Martin Luther King, Jr. once said you don’t have to have a college degree to serve, which is good news for MSU undergrads. To serve, Dr. King said you only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love. MSU offers many ways to celebrate the powerful message of Dr. King – no degree required. Upon hearing the words “no classes,” it is natural for many sleep-deprived, homework-loaded Spartan to use the day catch up on sleep, study or complete those other menial tasks that are often put by wayside. But the holiday really isn’t about taking a day off, it is about giving back, and there are many opportunities for MSU students to seize the spirit of the day and make a difference.
Motivated by Dr. King’s powerful message, the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives wanted to use this opportunity to engage the MSU campus and remind everyone of M.L.K., Jr.’s dream.[mlk12]
“We try to highlight and educate to keep impressing upon people that we have to live, work and learn together; it is up to us,” said Audrey Bentley, the programs and events coordinator for the office.
The theme for this year’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations at MSU is “Experiencing civil rights through Arts and Culture.” The theme coincides with MSU’s “Year of Arts and Culture,” the year-long initiative to recognize and appreciate arts on campus. In an effort to include and accommodate all, the activities are free.
[together]For those interested in gathering on the holiday, students can participate in a full day of activities on Jan. 21 that capture the essence of King’s message: the importance of giving back to the community. The celebrations on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day begin with activities organized by “Into the Streets,” an MSU student group where student volunteers work with community agencies, including nursing homes, soup kitchens and shelters. The service-learning project usually draws nearly 350 students each year. Volunteers are encouraged to pre-register at MSU’s service learning Web site, by clicking on the “Into the Streets” tab or at the “Into the Streets” Web site. On the actual holiday, student volunteers will receive their assignments at 8 a.m. at the MSU Business College Complex. From there, they go “into the streets” to live up to the name and mission of the student group and make a difference. For those unable to pre-register, they can receive assignments on site at the Business College Complex that morning, at a later time of 9:15 a.m. In the past, students have volunteered with the Salvation Army Toy Drive, at the MSU Greenhouse, helped paint and clean local homes and advocated change through newsletter distribution and letter-writing.
Justin Rumao, Into the Streets co-chair and mechanical engineering senior, said the agencies always embrace the needed help. “Whenever we can bring students to help, [the agencies] are always appreciative,” Rumao said. “They are more than grateful we are there.”
Nick Tecca, civil engineering freshman and new “Into the Streets” member, joined the organization soon after he arrived on campus. Tecca learned of the group from a stand in the Engineering Building. While the freshman hasn’t had a chance to participate yet, he is looking forward to the volunteer opportunities in the future. “I joined because it sounded like a solid group that was doing something important,” Tecca said.
“Into the Streets” is not the only option for students looking to act on M.L.K. Jr. Day: the Student Leadership Conference is being held on Jan. 21 in the MSU Union. The theme for the conference is “United for a Cause: Awareness, Inclusion and Action,” and the event will explore the impacts of the major society on social reform, social justice, inclusion and equality through lectures and workshops. “We’ll be talking about history and different cultures, not just African Americans. [The message] goes beyond the African American experience and looks for those who may have experienced different treatment because of who they are,” Bentley said. The conference begins at 8:30 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. [MLK2]
Following the conference, there will be a commemorative march from the Union to Beaumont tower where Dr. Lee N. June, Vice President for Student Affairs and Services and Assistant Provost for Academic Student Services and Multicultural Issues, will give a speech emulating the motivating essence often used by Dr. King. All are then invited to the MSU Museum to view “Quilts and Human Rights,” an exhibit exploring the role of quilt makers in raising awareness for human rights and paying tribute to prominent human rights leaders. The exhibit begins at 3:30 p.m.
The celebrations will come to a crescendo with a community dinner in Akers Hall. The dinner is intended to provide an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to interact with each other, exchange stories and dialogue about their personal experiences with diversity. “It goes beyond networking and is an opportunity to educate, enlighten and put depth into [Dr. King’s] message,” Bentley said. “The dinner is what we want the whole campus to be like: everyone getting to know each other, talking and having a good time. You find that we’re not so different.”
Housing and Food Services co-sponsors the dinner and creates an impressive spread, Bentley said. “The meal is five-star. It is food you don’t cook at home. People look forward to this event and there is warmth to the room, like family.”[different]
For students who can’t make it out on the actual holiday, some activities will occur prior to Jan. 21. On Saturday, Jan. 19, “Showtyme at MSU,” a talent show organized by students, will take place. In the past, the event has drawn crowds of approximately 700 students to the International Center Food Court from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. The event gives students a chance to express themselves and their experiences through their own personalities and voices.
On Sunday, Jan. 20, the commemorative concert “Jazz: Spirituals, Prayer and Protest” will take place at the Wharton Center’s Pasant Theatre. Bentley said this is an event that bridges the community and draws huge crowds. “We’ve had to expand the performance to two shows. People come from across the state,” Bentley said. “It is an opportunity to listen to jazz centered around a powerful theme.”
The work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has affected us all. He traveled thousands of miles, wrote numerous books and articles and participated in many non-violent protests in the name of civil rights. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a new definition to greatness by recognizing that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. This definition of greatness means that everyone has the opportunity to be great because everyone can serve. The gift of service is invaluable and will have positive lasting effects on both server and receiver. Take a day, or even a spare moment, to think about the message Dr. King lived and died for. He proved achieving greatness can be done by simple acts of kindness and the power to create change in within us. Be great this holiday.

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