By Kristen Mitchell
Cerise Clarke grew up on the south side of Atlanta, where she said Martin Luther King Jr. Day was widely celebrated with service and fanfare. Her high school organized service projects to remember Dr. King and his message of community engagement and civic duty.
Ms. Clarke said her service dropped off significantly when she moved away for college. Her course load as a student in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development has made it difficult to find the time to volunteer. She is determined to set aside time to give back more in 2017.
“I see a lot of people in my community get out and never come back,” she said. “I just thought today was a good opportunity to get back into the volunteering spirit.”
Ms. Clarke participated in the George Washington University’s annual MLK Day of Service and Leadership on Monday. She volunteered with Jumpstart, a national early education organization, where she prepared literacy activities and tools for pre-school children. More than 600 students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members registered to serve at 12 sites on and off campus.
Amy Cohen, executive director of the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, kicked off the Day of Service and Leadership with an opening program at Lisner Auditorium.
“At GW, we honor and celebrate Dr. King as a transformational figure, as someone who, as part of a larger movement, had the courage and the conviction to hold a mirror to American society and American injustice and offer a way forward, grounded in love and reconciliation,” she said.
Michael Tapscott, director of the GW Multicultural Student Services Center, told the crowd about a four-day trip he had just returned from with 22 students and other administrators to historical sites from the modern civil rights movement. They traveled the 54-mile path between Montgomery and Selma, Ala., where protesters marched for voting and other civil rights. The group visited Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta.
They walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the scene of a bloody encounter between protesters and state troopers. They sat on the city bus where Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat to a white male passenger. They met people who were the same age as many college students in the civil rights era and talked with a woman who marched to Selma and told them if they follow Dr. King’s teachings and understand his values, his legacy will live on.
“We ended up getting so much more than we anticipated,” Mr. Tapscott said.
After lunch, the groups dispersed to locations around Washington, D.C., and the Marvin Center where activities were set up. Volunteers updated the inventory and restocked the shelves at The Store in District House, cleaned and organized at Turner and Noyes elementary schools and hosted a community event at Little Friends for Peace to mark the day.
Members of the GW community also participated in on-campus workshops to discuss racism, bias and Dr. King’s legacy.
Dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs Reuben E. Brigety II cuts a homeless man's hair at Miriam's Kitchen to honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Joyce Kane, a senior studying political science, spent the afternoon decorating pillowcases and making cards for ill children at the Ronald McDonald House Charity. Groups of young children and their parents were also present to help with the kid-friendly projects.
Ms. Kane said everything she does in life is centered around giving back to the community.
“It takes a person to change a person,” she said. “Somebody did service for me, and for me to do service could change somebody else’s life.”
Shriya and Abhi Kalavapudi of Arlington, Va., said the tense political climate during and after the 2016 presidential campaign inspired them to give back to the community. As a 2013 alumna of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, Ms. Kalavapudi said the GW Day of Service and Leadership caught her eye.
Shriya and Abhi Kalavapudi spent the afternoon making educational tools for Jumpstart. Mr. Kalavapudi said it had been awhile since he has volunteered on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He said he finds the experience fulfilling.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said. “We felt motivated to do something.”
Activities around Martin Luther King Jr. Day at GW continue as part of King Week.
There will be a multimedia benefit concert from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, “A New Era, A New Song,” at the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre in the Marvin Center. The concert will highlight songs, poems and dances that honor the legacy and work of Dr. King.
Several additional events are scheduled for Thursday and later this month.