With the campus closed in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, William & Mary was uncharacteristically silent on Monday morning. While you might expect such stillness to be the natural result of a campus sleeping in on the day off, the opposite was true: Many students were already hard at work.
Monday morning saw William & Mary students at all levels honoring King’s legacy by participating in a variety of community service and social justice projects across both the Williamsburg and Petersburg, Va., areas.
More than service projects
The annual service day, part of the Office of Community Engagement’s MLK Social Justice and Service program, came with the knowledge that the need for community involvement and service is still pressing today.
On Jan. 17, Julianne Malveaux, author, economist and president emerita of Bennett College for Women, was the keynote speaker at the College’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration. In her remarks, Malveaux urged the audience to continue King’s legacy of fighting not only racial injustice, but also the social injustice of poverty.
“Those who accept evil without protesting it are really cooperating with it,” she said before issuing a call to action to her listeners: “What are you doing to serve other people at a time when we know that so many Americans need service?”
Over 100 W&M students representing a variety of student groups responded to Malveaux’s call on Monday, partnering with non-profit groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, Pathways, Goodwill and the W&M Campus Kitchen to assist with tasks like providing meals and supply kits for local homeless people, processing donations and working on construction projects.
But there was more to the students’ work than a finished product at the day’s end. Throughout the day of service, participants focused on learning about King’s life and the social justice issues to which he devoted his life.
According to Elizabeth Miller, coordinator of community engagement at W&M’s Office of Community Engagement, the student participants followed a process of education, action or service and reflection. Each group had a site leader that led his or her team in reflecting on the big-picture impact of the work being done there.
“Social justice for us is that everyone has the ability to live to their full potential, and so what we’re asking students to do is think about how this one-day service project is going to have a larger impact on their community, the full potential of those individuals in the community and also the community as a whole, and in particular how that relates to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘beloved community,’” said Miller.
“Before students engaged in service, they got together in groups, talking about those very issues, talking about the impact of what we’re doing, but more importantly, what the continued impact can be,” she said.
Serving across the state
At 8:30 a.m., a crowd of students huddled beside a Student Assembly (SA) van parked beside the Sadler Center waiting to depart for their project site, the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Jamestown Road. Long before they began to gather, however, a team of 20 students from Branch Out was already on the road to Petersburg.
The Petersburg component of the service day has been around longer than the Williamsburg aspect.
According to Miller, the Office of Community Engagement began hosting the MLK Social Justice and Service program in 2009, working with Pathways, a non-profit community development organization in Petersburg. Every year, students have worked with Pathways on a variety of projects including home construction, garden work and staffing a free store.
“It's wonderful to send students to not only work with a great organization, but also to serve in a city so rich with civil rights history and a place that Dr. King visited on multiple occasions,” Miller said.
During Monday’s service work, the Petersburg team collaborated with Pathways once again to work on a local construction project and help with a soup kitchen, as well as help lead a community rally.
This year, W&M also had students engaged in service work across Williamsburg, thanks in part to a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Goodwill, in the Williamsburg Shopping Center on Richmond Road, had a team helping sort donations as well as arranging a Valentine’s Day display at the front of the store.
For Goodwill, however, having the student volunteers was about more than the extra manpower.
“What we really like about William & Mary is that you’re not just here to fulfill some sort of commitment. You want your volunteers to have a meaningful, educated experience. That’s why these specific interactions with students from William & Mary are meaningful for them, but also very meaningful for us,” said Danielle Cronin, community relations manager for Goodwill.
Across campus on Scotland Street, a team of graduate students from the Mason School of Business worked with residents of the Blayton Building to create Red Cross comfort kits for local victims of fire and natural disasters as well as to write letters to members of the military and their families.
Chad Chadbourn M.B.A. ’13, community service representative for the M.B.A. Association, was proud to lead a service team reflecting W&M’s diverse educational community.
“Martin Luther King, Jr. called on others to serve, and on this special day it’s just an honor to teach others from our student body about the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., as we have many international students joining us here today. It’s a very important part of our commitment to service,” Chadbourn said.
While the MBA students were working with the Blayton Building residents, the SA van along with other groups of students had since descended upon the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, dividing into multiple teams to arrange displays, clear the shop floor and even build new shelving.
Williamsburg Vice Mayor and W&M alumnus Paul Freiling ’83 also stopped by the Habitat ReStore to join in the day’s service work.
Referring to the day of service, Frieling said, “I think it highlights the involvement of the campus community in the broader City of Williamsburg. Hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours are generated every year by the campus community and I think so many of the residents of Williamsburg don’t realize the impact of that…Students are everywhere making a difference.”
Nicole Chanduvi ’15, working with her team from Chicas Latinas Unidas to clear floor space, shared Frieling’s sentiments on volunteerism.
“Everyone should do it,” she said.