‘For me, MLK Day is about helping our community and doing what we can to share his legacy’

The first time recent Indiana University alumna Aja Morrow attended IU Bloomington’s annual Unity Summit on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she was surprised.

Not only were hundreds of students in attendance, on a day they could have otherwise had off, but they all were open to sharing their experiences of diversity and discrimination.

“It was a pretty eye-opening experience the first time,” said Morrow, a December graduate of the IU Kelley School of Business. “I had never been to something where we actually got to talk about diversity topics in a very candid manner, and I really appreciated that because I got to hear insights from other students — students you wouldn’t think had issues with diversity. So that was really interesting to hear.”

Morrow is one of almost 400 students who attend the annual “Social Justice in Action: Unity Summit,” where IU students gather to discuss issues of diversity, discrimination and advocacy on the MLK holiday.

Unity Summit

Students participate in last year’s Unit Summit on the IU bloomington campus.

With students in attendance from all different backgrounds, areas of studies and experiences, the summit provides an opportunity for students to not only discuss their own experiences, Morrow said, but to come together to strive for positivity on campus and throughout life.

That idea, she said, is what MLK Day is all about.

“When I think about MLK’s legacy, I think about bringing people together,” she said. “It’s about making people find things they have in common and not focusing on their differences. I think on a daily basis we inherently think about differences when we meet someone. When you think about MLK, he really wanted to strive to focus on the positive and to focus on things that bring us together. I think the Unity Summit does a good job of that as well.”

The unity summit is one of a number of events students can take part in on MLK Day. Whether it’s discussions around diversity or volunteering in the community, MLK Day gives students a chance not only to reflect on King’s legacy but to then take what they have learned and apply it throughout their lives.

“Dr. King said, ‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”‘” said Martin McCrory, associate vice president for academic support and diversity, as well as vice provost for educational inclusion and diversity at IU Bloomington. “King also said, ‘The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.’

“This campus has a long and rich tradition of teaching the value of critical thinking, social responsibility and community service. For decades, the MLK activities here at IUB have gone far beyond a single day devoted to honoring Dr. King’s legacy. Each year, our students, faculty and staff devote the days and weeks surrounding MLK Day to effecting positive changes through dialogue and service, both on campus and in the local community.”

Natalie Archer, a junior studying law and public policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is one of the IU students who has made it her mission to give back on MLK Day.

Since her freshman year, Archer has participated in IU’s Faculty and Staff for Student Excellence Mentoring Program’s Cover Bloomington MLK Day Service Project. The day consists of volunteer work at the four locations of the Interfaith Emergency Winter Shelter in Bloomington.

IU students prepare food for the area homeless as part of FASE's Cover Bloomington MLK Day Service Project.

IU students prepare food for the area homeless as part of FASE’s Cover Bloomington MLK Day Service Project.

Volunteers provide warm clothing and blankets to the area homeless population and help prepare meals and sleeping quarters, assemble care kits, collect canned goods and assist with other tasks needed at the shelter.

For Archer, volunteering through FASE on MLK Day has provided her the opportunity to step outside her academic world.

“It is nice to be able to help the homeless population,” she said. “I think as students we sometimes forget that they are a presence in the Bloomington community. So it is nice to make that a reality for some and to get involved in the community outside of IU.”

Standing beside her fellow IU students and community members, making sandwiches and meals to distribute among some of Bloomington’s neediest residents, provides Archer both a sense of giving and a sense of community, she said. It also makes her thankful for the blessings she has and the support and experiences she has received through IU.

Although MLK Day was simply a day off when Archer was younger, now at IU, the day has come to mean so much more.

“For me, MLK Day is about helping our community and doing what we can to share his legacy,” she said. “Whether it’s helping at the shelters or going to a food bank or whatever you choose to do, it’s about making sure you are involved in the community and lending a helping hand to others.”

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