Campus celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

A half day has arrived at Carnegie Mellon, leaving only one explanation: Martin Luther King Jr. Day is here.

This afternoon, King’s dream will take over the University Center and the city of Pittsburgh. Fourth-grade artwork, high school narratives, inspirational lectures, dramatic interpretations, service trips, and student music performances are only some of the events planned for Carnegie Mellon’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Classes end at 12:30 p.m. today to allow for the many activities available in this year’s day of service and celebration. Beginning with a choral tribute from the schools of Drama and Music in the University Center, the events last through the evening with the wrap-up of local service activities.

“Our decision to hold classes in the morning is due to our belief that Martin Luther King Jr. Day creates a unique opportunity for ‘A Day On, Not A Day Off,’ a motto for the day nationally,” said Anne Witchner, assistant dean of Student Affairs.

Witchner spoke of the university’s worry that the complete cancellation of classes would diminish student participation and detract from the day’s events. With just a half day, the majority of students are already on campus.

Zenobia Bell, a junior social and decisions sciences major and the committee head of SPIRIT, echoed her support of the half-day implementation.

“I know most schools either start school after the day or have the day off,” Bell said, “but realistically, I don’t think many people would participate if there were no classes that day.”
The University of Pittsburgh, Carlow University, and Duquesne University schedules all include a full day of observance, canceling classes for today’s holiday.

While Witchner admitted that this is not a decision taken lightly by the administration, she said that it “continues to be assured by the engagement of our community that this is indeed a fitting way to honor Dr. King.”

Gina Casalegno, director of Student Activities, spoke of President Jared L. Cohon’s support.

As opposed to a day off, “Dr. Cohon believes strongly that this holiday presents an opportunity for a ‘day on’ when students, faculty, staff, and community members can come together to celebrate,” she said.

With countless opportunities available, there are more than enough chances for students to truly take this day on.

With the culmination of the choral tribute by music and drama students, President Cohon will officially open the day with his annual state of diversity address. He is expected to speak on diversity in student enrollment, faculty, and university staff while highlighting both progress and areas to improve upon.

His address will set the tone for the day to come.

At 1:30 p.m., local high school students and Carnegie Mellon students will be reading their personal works on racial experiences, cultural identity, and reflection on civil rights. These students, all recipients of the Martin Luther King Jr. Writing Awards, will be honored by the university.

Other activities on campus include a candlelight procession and a community discussion on environmental justice, in addition to activities for children.

The art gallery will host a puppet show and an art exhibit from local fourth graders, emphasizing the importance of children’s awareness of the day, according to Witchner.
“Just honoring Martin Luther King Jr. should be enough to get people motivated,” Bell said.

Beyond the University Center, buses will be departing from the turnaround all day to various service projects around Pittsburgh.

Since the event’s beginning in 2000, the university “has developed wonderful partnerships with organizations outside Carnegie Mellon,” Witchner said.

The local service projects include groups such as the Union Project, based at the intersection of Negley and Stanton avenues, which offers communal space for neighborhood children and their families to gather, attend lectures, and learn about the arts. Student volunteers will help to organize the day’s events and teach children’s art classes.

The Union Project is just one of many community organizations looking for volunteers later today.

Setting this year apart from others is the day’s keynote speaker, Michael Eric Dyson, delivering a lecture titled “Martin Luther King for the 21st Century: Hip Hop, Environmental Justice, and the State of Black America.” Dyson, a professor at Georgetown University, is also the author of 14 books including Is Bill Cosby Right? and Come Hell Or High Water.

“I’ve known about this speaker since the beginning of the year and am really excited,” said Bell. “It’s great we’re having an author like him come and speak.”

Casalegno echoed Bell’s excitement for the keynote event.

“I have seen Michael Dyson speak before and find him to be an incredibly powerful speaker,” Casalegno said.

Dyson will speak from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in Rangos Hall.

While Bell has known about the speaker for months, she questioned the amount of publicity for Dyson and the event in general.

“I walk around campus and see all these signs for Winter Gala, and when it’s Black History Month, there are so many for that,” said Bell, “but the advertising for this day seems to be lacking.”
It is easy for students to ignore a letter in a mailbox or just one e-mail, Bell added. In the future, she hopes to see the day represented much more visually such as through chalking and posters.

Yet, Witchner insists that the day has consistently had a respectable turnout.

“I am always excited to see the wide range of audience members that turn out each year,” she said.

“I like to think of the day as a great opener to second semester and a way of just honoring and reflecting on Dr. King,” Bell said. “I’m excited to participate this year.”