Ben Rihn ’22
With the arrival of mid-January comes national recognition of Martin Luther King Day. With that in mind, a time for thoughtful reflection and conversation is right around the corner, and planning for Mercersburg’s day of activities for MLK Day has been underway for weeks.
This year’s events, which have pulled from the coordination of years past—especially the restricted interface of last year’s virtual programming—is designed to forge deep conversations regarding King’s legacy: a fervent devotion to positive outreach and service. Assistant director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Leela Woody says, “the programming is similar to past programming because its main focus is to engage students in a way that feels productive and meaningful. What is largely different about this programming is that it spans the entire day and integrates external voices.”
Renata Williams, director of DEI, who has led the planning process, says, “The plan for the day is to engage the entire community.” It’s essential that all of Mercersburg’s community members are partaking in the discussions at hand.
“Engagement is going to look different for everyone; some may be doing service, others may be involved in an interactive learning experience while others may be tapping into their artistic side. The idea is to demonstrate the various ways to engage in the celebration, service and education concerning the work of Dr. King,” says Williams. In other words, to compensate for reaching out to Mercersburg in its entirety, the leaders of DEI have decided to diversify the ways in which people can participate, including those who are still working virtually due to COVID. In doing so, community members can cater their experience to areas of interest or levels of comfort so they can truly immerse themselves in the day’s events.
To fully capitalize on this ideal for a broad audience, DEI cooperated with Emily Parsons, head of community engagement, to bring the external voices that Woody mentioned above to the MLK events. “Special Olympics Maryland is joining us virtually. We’re using resources from Rock the Vote, Love for Our Elders, and Support our Troops for three of the sessions,” says Parsons. There will also be several homeless shelters that students and faculty will be delivering food to. The goal here is to task Mercersburg with effectively serving the local community and, consequently, becoming more cognizant of the immediate world beyond the campus borders. This is, perhaps, the underlying theme of this year’s MLK day events: to become more socially-active representatives of the community.
It’s quite the jump to go from an hour of virtual conferencing to a whole day of immersive activities; however, the only way to establish a lasting precedent for future years, to extend the conversation surrounding MLK Day into the future, is to go big or go home. After all, as Williams says, “this type of event…was a return to something we have taken a break from for several years as an institution.” On January 17, it’s time for the community to get back on its horse.