MLK event and service opportunity held virtually

Ilene Flaherty, Reporter Alex Gray, Reporter

The Office of Community Engaged Learning partnered with United Way of Portage County to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 53 years after his passing.

The event was held virtually to provide Kent State University students with information about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and efforts, while also ensuring the health and safety of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We considered factors like what would make for the safest approach, how many people would be on campus and how we could still create an engaging experience that helped participants both learn about Dr. King’s life and legacy, considered contemporary implications of Dr. King’s message and also created an opportunity for them to take action,” said Craig Berger, the assistant director for Community Engaged Learning.

To achieve this goal, the Office of Community Engaged Learning provided the participants of this event with performances and art from two groups and one artist. Asé Xpressions, a Kent State dance group focused on “a variety of traditional and modern African dance movements, as well as dance of the African diaspora,” submitted a video of a variety of dances they performed.

Poet, writer, and performer Just C.O.S. submitted a video of himself reading one of his poems, titled “Monarch,” to inspire participants to “drink from the flower of courage instead of fear.” The last performance shown was a video of the brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha singing the hymn of the fraternity in King’s honor.

To allow participants of this event to see how a difference can be made by utilizing the teachings of King, Ohio Senator Vernon Sykes and Ohio House of Representatives Minority Leader Emilia Sykes were invited to speak at this event. The Dean of University College Dr. Eboni J. Pringle asked each of them questions as to how King’s legacy has been and can be applied to politics.

“When we say redistricting, it means that some folks may end up losing an election that they ordinarily would have won,” Vernon Sykes said during the discussion. “So, privilege and wealth are not easily surrendered, and that’s why we need principled policy makers that have the [right] confidence to guide us to achieve the American dream.”

Emilia Sykes answered one question by saying, “Truly, nobody wins in a society when there is oppression and discrimination, no matter how you want to slice it. We are all worse off whenever there are certain marginalized groups of populations that are withheld by corporate interests or by government or individually by the way we see one another.” 

The final way the Office of Community Engaged Learning worked to provide opportunities for the participants to spread King’s legacy was by partnering with the United Way of Portage County to arrange a reading service project.

The students of Kent State University were offered an opportunity to register for the “Reading Role Models” service event, which works to give elementary students the ability to safely be read to and learn more about King during the COVID-19 pandemic. The books being read to the children were “We March” by Shane Evans and “The Story of Martin Luther King Jr.” by Johnny Ray Moore.

“We intentionally chose to focus on one large project this year that didn’t need to be contained to the timeframe of our event, but could also take place in the week or so afterward,” Berger explained. “We learned about a new program through the United Way of Portage County named ‘Reading Role Models,’ which helps children in our community learn to love reading.”

The office purchased copies of the two children’s books and provided them to volunteer groups. The groups were then asked to record themselves reading the books and those recordings were submitted to the Reading Role Models virtual library.

“We recognized that just because it is not safe to physically meet on campus does not mean that we cannot have an engaging, empowering and educational experience as a community,” Berger observes.

Ilene Flaherty is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].

Alex Gray is TV2’s General Manager. Contact her at [email protected].