Carrying on King's Legacy

Service is key for MLK week.         

By Gillian Smith ’12

When Martin Luther King Jr. 
fought for civil rights, he probably didn’t imagine the impact he would have on 
American society, let alone students at Ithaca 
College and their community.

During the week of January 24, the College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars (MLK scholars) joined up with the Office of Student 
Engagement and Multicultural Affairs to bring in civil rights activists, slam poets, and 
local organizations to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King.

Don Austin, assistant director of commun
ity service and leadership development at IC, said the theme for the week — “addressing the fierce urgency of now” — focused on the importance of putting words into action and giving back to the community.

“It is important that students see themselves as community members, not only here at the College, but in the broader community,” he says. “Their contributions can significantly help the betterment of the local community.”

The week, which held its kickoff event 
on Monday, January 24, featured Dorothy Cotton, civil rights activist and former education director for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Cotton spoke about her experience with Dr. King and reminded the audience that the fight for civil rights is not over until the world is “colorblind.”

In addition to Cotton, the MLK scholars 
gave a slideshow presentation about their civil 
rights tour to Alabama during fall break last October. They incorporated poetry into their presentation and had two students perform a song they had written about their experience.

Events throughout the week focused on social justice, faith, and putting words into action. The week wrapped up with a day of service on Saturday, January 29, for which students were encouraged to devote their skills and talents to the community.

“Issues such as poverty affect every neighborhood, community, and country around the world, so it is a way for them to learn about 
Dr. King by having the opportunity to get involved,” Austin says.

Austin says the students had the opportunity to help out a nonprofit organization in the community. They could choose from organizations that work with disabled people, elderly people, youth, school systems, or other 
communities. He says the work allows students to see what it takes for the community to take care of each other in order for it to be healthy and strong.

Cedrick Simmons, a first-year MLK scholar, says the day of service is incredibly important to both the students and the community. He says he hopes students learned that they have an important role in the community outside of the College.

“Everybody likes to think we are living
in a post-racial society, but through our civil 
rights tour, I’ve started to realize that there 
are still certain things that go on in American 
society that aren’t that far removed from the 
civil rights era,” Simmons says. “There is something about doing community service and being selfless that is simply enlightening.”