On Wednesday February 8, as a part of Martin Luther King Jr. Week, the Multi-Cultural Student Services Center hosted 78 Providence middle school students for the fifth annual MLK day of service.
Thirty University of Rhode Island volunteers worked alongside with students from UCAP, Paul Cuffee Charter School, and Highlander Charter School in order to discuss contemporary issues, in order to preserve Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s legacy of promoting love and peaceful protests.
Selena Evora, a double-major in Health Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies said, “It’s a Martin Luther King Jr service event, where we are teaching kids about racism, discrimination and prejudice through the ways that Martin Luther King Jr. demonstrated through non-violence and teaching the kids the importance of being non-violent.”
The middle school students went through a variety of creative activities, like making posters and watching a movie, exploring their own personal beliefs about Reverend King and the issues of today’s society. Each group of students created two posters, “one poster was taken back to the students’ respective school and one was given to URI to be hung around campus (Moore).”
Conversations about race and prejudice can be difficult and uncomfortable but Manuela Vadis, a fifth year student majoring in Health Studies and minoring in Business, URI Chaplains MLK Peacemaker Award Recipient, the Evening Manager at the Multicultural Student Services Center and the Master of Ceremonies for the event, thinks that these discussions are essential for all members of the community.
Vadis said, “We have to continue to make connections in today’s society with the ongoing tradition of segregation, racism, and the things that Dr. King fought for and keep them alive… We have to understand that we take our freedom for granted and this is not what he fought for.”
It can be difficult to talk to children about complex issues regarding social justice, but the volunteers at the workshop took a direct approach. They wanted to be honest with the students and give them the information in a way that makes them aware and inspires them to work for change, as opposed to instilling fear in them. Vadis found that being genuine and honest was the best way to deliver the information and helped make the students feel more comfortable.
URI students were excited at the opportunity to educate and work with the students that come from mainly low income areas. Grace McConnell, a junior double major in Public Relations and Fashion Merchandising and a member of Chi Omega, was excited to invoke positive changes in the students.
“I think it’s important to try to better oneself and I wanted these kids to know that college is an opportunity to do that,” said McConnell. “They should know that they can find ambition in this environment and could change their lives”.
The MLK day of Service was an opportunity for the middle school students to think about college and the benefits that it can offer. When the workshop ended, two out of the three middle schools took a tour around campus. “We wanted to give them an impression of URI and what college can do for them.. College is an opportunity for them to better themselves and could change their lives,” said McConnell.
This workshop required a lot of organization and planning by several URI faculty and staff: Adam Moore, PhD, Assistant Professor of the School of Education, Melvin Wade, Diversity Events Special Coordinator, and Office of Community, Equity and Diversity, Susan Brand, D.Ed, Professor in the School of Education, Kayon Murray-Johnson, PhD, Assistant Professor in the School of Education, Steve Simo, EdD, Director of Greek Life, Sarah Miller, Coordinator of Service Learning and Feinstein Civic Engagement Program, and Jasmine Leal, Student, Chemical Engineering and President of DIVE, all were influential in this event.
The addition of the student volunteers was critical in making the MSSC a comfortable environment where the middle school students felt safe. Other influential organizations that helped with the workshop are The URI Bookstore, Greek Life, School of Education, Alan Shawn Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies, and Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society.