MURRAY – For students at Murray State University, especially those in the Nonprofit Leadership Studies Program, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday typically means a day of volunteering with local agencies to assist them in their humanitarian missions.

As with most things in the last 10 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed things this year. There is normally a keynote speaker during a Monday morning breakfast sponsored by Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, as well as a march across campus the night before. After the breakfast, students are typically paired with various Calloway County nonprofit organizations for the Day of Service.

With all those traditions unfeasible, if not impossible this year, the university’s Office of Multicultural Initiatives, Student Leadership & Inclusive Excellence is instead hosting the 2021 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Virtual Celebration in collaboration with various university offices and community organizations. The celebration will begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18.

This year’s theme is “Living the Dream: Committing to a Better Community and World.” The keynote speech will be delivered by Dr. Kevin D. Woodgett, senior chair for the Health Coalition of Delaware County and senior pastor for the Church of the Living God of Muncie, Indiana. According to his official bio, Woodgett is the founding pastor of the Church of The Living God and was consecrated and ordained as pastor there in 1999. He is very involved in the Muncie community and has been given numerous accommodations and awards for his work throughout his community. He also serves as chaplain for both the Muncie Police Department and the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department. He is a devoted husband to his wife, Elizabeth, a father of four children (Dionna, Kevin II, Brandon, Dena), as well as “Paw-Paw” to his grandchildren. 

Murray State’s Black Student Council and the Dr. Marvin D. Mills Sr. Emerging Scholars Institute are hosting the event. The Office of Multicultural Initiatives, Student Leadership & Inclusive Excellence, President’s Office, Office of the Provost, Division of Student Affairs, the City of Murray Human Rights Commission and the United Way of Murray-Calloway County will co-sponsor the event. 

“Like everything else, we’re going to be doing a virtual event,” said Dr. S.G. Carthell, executive director for Multicultural Initiatives and the Dr. Marvin D. Mills, Sr. Multicultural Center. “Instead of having a breakfast and in-person event, we’re encouraging people to give back to some of the (community nonprofit agencies). That’s the safest way to do it, rather than gather in a large group.”

Carthell said that rather than have a single Day of Service, students are being encouraged to volunteer for local agencies throughout the spring semester.

“Hopefully, as the vaccine gets out into the community and things start to open up a bit, we’ll be able to provide those opportunities for our students,” he said. “We’re going to be encouraging ongoing service and trying to document that service into the fall. So as we get more on the other side of this (pandemic), it will be easier to gather in larger groups.

“Last year, we had a huge participation and it was one of the best Days of Service we ever had. … We had a really successful MLK Day at the beginning of the year, and while this year is obviously a little hampered by the pandemic, we still have a great speaker. Not only is he a great speaker, but he is very involved in his community and the coalition of community activists he works with. He’s very involved in what’s happening (in Muncie) and I think it’s real important to hear the voices of people who are actively trying to affect positive change in our communities.”

The virtual event is free and open to the public. Visit murraystate.edu/oma for more information and to access the virtual event, or call 270-809-6836. A list of the organizations students are encouraged to support is available at murraystate.edu/oma.

Meanwhile, a group of Murray residents who have been calling for the removal of the Confederate monument on the courthouse square said it is planning a week of “community activism, learning and reflection in honor of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.” A news release from the “Move the Monument” group said its members are encouraging Calloway County residents to work individually or within their families from Jan. 17-23 to “give back, engage politically and send words of encouragement to community organizations.”

The group noted that Monday will be the 26th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates King’s life and legacy. “Observed each year on the third Monday in January as ‘a day on, not a day off,’ MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities,” the news release said. “Due to COVID-19, many of the traditional MLK Day service projects have been canceled.”

“Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. told us that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” said Sherman Neal II, who reignited calls for the removal of the monument with a letter to Calloway County elected officials over the summer. “The last eight months have been long. The coming days will be longer. I am grateful for the opportunity to stand up with this community to advocate for change. Direct action requires sacrifice and we all have something to give. We have work to do. I hope sharing my story will drive one more person to speak up and act.”

The Murray Week of Action will commence with a viewing of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1967 speech “The Other America,” followed by a virtual community conversation through Zoom with Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, Dr. Jessica Evans and Neal starting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17. The group said they will conclude the week with a peaceful protest at the Confederate monument at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23. Face masks will be required for anyone attending. The full list of the events – including a video link to King’s 1967 speech and the Zoom login information – can be found at https://tinyurl.com/y3yhfz77. The group said it would be using the Twitter hashtag #MurrayMLKWeekofAction to promote the activities.   

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