Tag: MLK Day

Speaker puts focus on King’s “radical” message; students reach out in service

Rev. Sekou leads the audience in song during Monday's MLK Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
Rev. Sekou performs Monday during the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Memorial Chapel. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University faculty, students, and staff honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a day of service on Monday.

No classes were held on the federal holiday honoring the civil rights icon, but Lawrence again provided a bevy of volunteer and learning opportunities around King’s life and message. The day was topped off with the 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Memorial Chapel, an event co-sponsored by Lawrence and African Heritage Inc.

A community celebration

Simon Balto gestures with his hands as he speaks during Monday's MLK Celebration at Memorial Chapel.
Simon Balto gives his address, “Restoring the Radical King,” during Monday’s 29th annual Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Memorial Chapel.

The evening event featured keynote speaker Simon Balto, an assistant professor of history and African American studies at the University of Iowa and author of the book, Occupied Territory: Policing Black Chicago from Red Summer to Black Power.

He implored the audience not to lose sight of the radical mission of King, not to be lulled into complacency by a modern caricature that allows politicians and others to tap into benign visions of King that they believe can impart feel-good messages.

“We treat him now like this bundle of sound bites and remember him as a lovable man with little more than a kumbaya dream of a colorblind society,” Balto said. “People, and politicians in particular, seem to think that King can be whatever they want him to have been.”

He was so much more than that, Balto said. There’s a reason that a Gallup poll in 1966 found that only 32% of Americans had a positive view of King. He sought radical change. He made people uncomfortable. And that was a good thing.

“Martin Luther King was a radical,” Balto said. “People often think of the word radical as if it is pejorative or scary. But we shouldn’t think that way.”

It’s about “challenging the status quo at a fundamental level,” he said.

King and others in the civil rights movement successfully took down Jim Crow laws in the south, ending legalized segregation. But that, Balto said, was only one phase. The next phase — fighting racism that was built into the very fabric of the nation — would prove far more difficult. It’s a battle that continues today even as we honor the great accomplishments of King.

“Yes, Dr. King did want an end to racial discrimination, but he also knew that simply ending the Jim Crow system was not going to do it,” Balto said. “He knew that racism was manifested in all sorts of different ways … and not just in the south. He knew it was baked into the housing policies in places like Milwaukee and Chicago and Los Angeles. … He knew it was baked into the ways of the criminal justice system and how it treated black people. He knew it was in the school system and the labor market, in all sorts of places the civil rights movement that had vanquished Jim Crow in the south hadn’t fixed.”

King told his followers that the new battle would be more difficult, in large part because it came with a much higher price tag for the nation, one that would run into the billions of dollars and require the transformation of many of the tenets of society, Balto said. It was an uphill fight, and remains so today.

“People died pursuing it,” Balto said. “Indeed, Dr. King died pursuing it.”

Memorial Chapel is mostly full as Lawrence student Kyree Allen sings during Monday's MLK event.
Kyree Allen ’23 sings “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during Monday’s Fox Cities Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration in Memorial Chapel.

Also at Monday’s King Celebration event, Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, a musician, filmmaker, and theologian, led a rousing music portion of the program. The annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award was presented to Carla A. Manns, a local author, business owner, and community leader. And Pa Lee Moua, formerly an associate dean of students for diversity at Lawrence and now the Appleton Area School District’s diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Educator Award.

Special video tributes were given to recently departed community leaders Ronald Dunlap and Henry Golde.

Day of service activities

Nearly 400 Lawrence students, faculty, and staff took part in community outreach activities or participated in teach-ins Monday in honor of King’s legacy. With no classes being held, it was designated as a day of service.

Nearly 150 volunteers supported communities across the Fox Cities through service at Riverview Gardens, the Fox Valley Humane Association, Feeding America, Brewster Village, and the Boys and Girls Clubs in Appleton and Menasha. Another 155 attended a half dozen teach-ins that ranged from being actively engaged in anti-racism advocacy to addressing stigma and disparity within mental health treatment.

“We were very impressed by the interest from the Lawrence campus,” said Kristi Hill, director of Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change. “We are hopeful that we provided a variety of offerings around learning, volunteering, and celebrating.”

Students load mulch into a wheelbarrow at Riverview Gardens.
Students load mulch to be placed in hoop houses at Riverview Gardens during Monday’s MLK Day of Service. (Photo by Liz Boutelle)

At Riverview Gardens, an Appleton nonprofit that uses urban farming as a means to produce food and provide job training for struggling populations, nearly 25 students took to the fields on a cold afternoon to place mulch into hoop houses and do other chores, all aimed at prepping the farm for spring planting.

“Riverview Gardens is a really great organization because they work with job skills training for homeless and disadvantaged communities,” said Floreal Crubaugh ’20. “That’s really important for our day of service.”

She and many of the other volunteers she was working with are members of the student organization that tends to the Lawrence University Sustainable Garden (SLUG), so the outreach to Riverview Gardens was particularly close to the heart.

“We’re a club that’s really organized around community service and volunteering,” Crubaugh said. “This really meshed well with our mission of giving our time and giving our skills to the community.”

It’s work that was much appreciated by the workers who tend to the needs of Riverview Gardens on a daily basis.

“This helps us prepare for our spring planting,” said Elisse Pavletich, the farm manager. “They are putting mulch in a lot of our hoop houses, which will prevent weeds from growing in those places and it gives us a lot more time to focus on the vegetables in spring, which then helps us to help more people.”

Lawrence students sit with cats at the Fox Valley Humane Association during the MLK Day of Service on Monday.
Lawrence students socialize with cats while volunteering at the Fox Valley Humane Association Monday during Lawrence’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

At the Fox Valley Humane Association, a team of Lawrence volunteers focused on cleaning the facility, doing laundry, and stocking shelves before turning their attention to interaction with the animals that are currently calling the shelter home.

“I find working with animals incredibly important,” said Sara Prostko ’20. “They are a population that cannot say their needs, they don’t have a say in their environment, where they go, who they’re with.

“Lawrence is all about trying to be a voice for those who cannot have a voice for themselves. I think this is exactly that. … We’re doing a lot of cleaning and sorting of stuff, things that I’d rather us volunteers do rather than employees so they can spend their time and efforts on things to expand the organization.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

‘Do your work’: Lawrence students, faculty, staff reach out on MLK Day

Lawrence University students, faculty and staff were out and about in big numbers Monday as they responded to the call to service in honor of the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

They took part in multiple volunteer efforts at area Boys and Girls Clubs, Feeding America, Brewster Village and Riverview Gardens, participated in an OxFam Hunger Banquet to get a deeper understanding of issues that keep families trapped in poverty and took part in faculty teach-in sessions on topics ranging from systematic racism to youth mental health.

That was a lead-up to Monday evening’s celebration at Memorial Chapel, a chance to embrace Dr. King’s legacy and reaffirm a commitment to carry his message forward.

Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. speaks at podium.
Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. speaks during Monday’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Memorial Chapel.

Keynote speaker Dr. Eddie Moore Jr. implored the nearly full house at the chapel to be active and vocal in pushing King’s messages of inclusion and equality.

“The people who really have me concerned are good people with good hearts who say nothing,” Moore said. “The best friend that hate has is silence.”

A Lawrence tradition

The day of service on MLK Day has been a tradition at Lawrence since 2003.

“It’s a day on, not a day off, for service,” said Kristi Hill, director of Lawrence’s Center for Community Engagement and Social Change.

Nearly 300 students, faculty and staff took part in the various service projects.

“Lawrence has made a commitment to build students who are change makers,” Hill said, calling Monday’s activities an opportunity for students and faculty to “learn, serve and celebrate” in Dr. King’s name.

The OxFam Hunger Banquet, held at the Warch Campus Center, featured a simulation to highlight issues and laws that keep people cut off from needed resources, stifling opportunities to escape the brutal cycle of poverty. The session looked to raise awareness of poverty and hunger issues here and around the world and inspire those participating to become active in fighting inequalities in access to resources.

Organized by the LU Food Recovery Network, it was a first-time event and drew upwards of 90 participants.

“It’s an opportunity to learn about equity in our communities,” Hill said.

Getting into the community

The service excursions around the Fox Cities gave participants a chance to engage with youth, interact with community elders and do work that assists area food pantries.

The Brewster Village program, created by Vicky Liang ’19 as part of the Building Intergenerational Relationships partnership between Lawrence and the Outagamie County rehabilitation and long-term nursing facility, had Lawrence students working with elders to create six-word memoirs to reflect their lives.

“We’re trying to raise awareness of the loneliness,” Liang said as Brewster Village residents paired up with Lawrence students around tables in the community room, engaging in conversations that tapped into memories and brought reflections of lives lived.

“With the MLK message, we usually think of the ‘I Have a Dream,'” Liang said. “But he fought for justice and equal resources for everyone.”

Lawrence volunteer talks with students at Boys and Girls Club.
Lawrence University student Beatrice Gee interacts Monday with kids at the Boys and Girls Club in Menasha.

At the Boys and Girls Clubs in Appleton and Menasha, a program organized by Sam Taylor ’19 had about 50 Lawrence volunteers talking with about 300 K-6 students about the work and legacy of MLK.

At the Menasha club, students in one room gathered in circles to talk through “Wings,” a book by Christopher Myers that tells the story of a boy born with wings who is shunned and mocked by his peers because he’s different and a young girl who finally gathers the confidence to speak up on his behalf.

Sophie Dion-Kirschner ’20, one of the Lawrence volunteers, said she believes the messages being delivered and the connections being made are a benefit to both the youngsters at the Boys and Girls Club and the Lawrentians who stepped up to volunteer.

“They all get something out of it that they weren’t expecting,” she said.

Teach-ins close to home

Five professors, meanwhile, hosted teach-ins in various residence halls, informal gatherings to talk about issues of education, diversity and inclusion. Students were able to come and go, joining in the conversation as they saw fit.

Professor Lori Hilt talks with students at Hiett Hall.
Professor Lori Hilt conducts a teach-in Monday at Hiett Hall.

Professor Stephanie Burdick-Shepherd talked about systematic inequalities in education; Professor Mark Jenike talked on hunger in a wealthy nation; Professor Lori Hilt on improving youth mental health; Professor Jason Brozek on the global climate justice movement; and Professor Jesus Gregorio Smith on systematic racism.

The teach-ins, a first-time offering on MLK Day, resonated with the students, Dion-Kirschner said. “The professors are showing people, I teach you this material, but here is what I can do with it. Here are the things that you can do to make this world a better place.”

A Dr. King celebration

That all led to Monday night’s community celebration at the chapel, a partnership between Lawrence, African Heritage Inc. and various community organizations, to honor Dr. King’s legacy. Moore, a noted activist who has forged a career as a speaker and consultant on issues of race and equality, was the keynote speaker for the 28th annual event, addressing the theme, “Why Keep Dreaming? A Time for Action.”

Turning that dream into action takes work, Moore said.

“When you’re committed, everybody has work to do,” he said. “It’s not just black friends or listening to Tina Turner or doing one thing with one person. It’s work.”

That’s true, he said, no matter how committed you are or how deeply you believe in all that King preached.

“I can’t just get there because I say I’m a good person,” Moore said. “Do your work.”

Speaking of doing the work, the annual Jane LaChapelle McCarty MLK Community Leader Award was presented to Norys Pina, who has been a leading advocate in the Fox Cities on immigration issues and a vocal resource in the areas of access and equality. She’s a lead organizer of Unidos por un Futuro Mejor – Fox Cities and works as a volunteer coordinator for the Fox Valley Literacy Council. She is the 25th recipient of the honor, first awarded in 1995.

Winners of the annual youth essay contest read their essays during the MLK celebration. They included Feyikemi Delano-Oriaran, a second-grader at Classical School in Appleton, Lilyanna Pieper, a sixth-grader at Huntley Elementary School in Appleton, and Catlin Yang, a senior at Kimberly High School.

More photos: See photos from Monday’s MLK Day events here.

Video: Lawrence students volunteer in the community on MLK Day