It was a day of understanding, of celebration and of service, as hundreds of community members, MCLA students and area youth gathered for the 23rd Annual MLK Day of Service on Monday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Sponsored by MCLA and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC), the day began with service projects such as those to make mittens and quilts, meal kits to be distributed for local food pantries to those in need, and Valentines for the upcoming holiday to brighten up the day for residents of a local nursing home.
Some participated in discussions intended to foster acceptance and consideration, including a series on conversations on race, sexuality and gender. The presentation included an exercise that Samantha Hamilton ’18 (pictured right, top) of New Ashford, Mass. – who participated in the day’s events for the first time – found particularly eye-opening.
“There were at least 20 of us, all from the community. Half of them were high schoolers, and the other half were college students,” Hamilton explained. “We did something called ‘Cross the Line.’”
Led by Adam Tobin ’14, who had the participants stand together on a designated line, they took a step forward, in front of the line, in response to positive statements such as, “Your parents went to college,” or a step back behind the line, in response to negative statements, like, “You’ve been sexually harassed.”
Hamilton found it enlightening to see how others’ experiences compared with her own.
“People in the back weren’t necessarily black. There were kids that were white. Some kids that were black were in front of the line. The whole thing was about privilege,” she said. “Even though white people have privilege because of their skin color, we all go through struggles in life. That was helpful to see.”
Like Hamilton, Falyn Elhard ’18 (pictured right, bottom) Amherst, Mass., who also is a member of MCLA’s CCOR (Campus Conversations on Race) organization, participated in the discussions.
“These conversations bring people together from diverse backgrounds,” Elhard said. “The conversations are very organic in that everyone can add whatever they want. Because they’re not moderated, the conversations can grow and almost take on a life of their own.”
Travis Rice ’17 (pictured right, center) of Springfield, Mass., volunteered at the Adams Youth Center, where he spent his time building with Legos and playing games with the children. He also talked with them about the importance of doing well in school and attending college.
“It’s always important to volunteer in the area, especially with the kids, because they need it the most. The most important thing you can give to somebody is your time,” Rice said, adding, “It’s always good to have an older mentor to help guide them on the right path.”
According to the event’s coordinator, Thomas Alexander, MCLA’s Multicultural Education Resource Center coordinator, one of the main purposes of the event was to bring together people from different backgrounds so they could connect with one another and make a difference.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a great civil rights leader,” Elhard said. “Because of him, we were able to make great strides. We’ve definitely made progress, but we still also have a long way to go. We need to keep talking.”