Students, faculty and members of the Florida Southern community honored the late Martin Luther King Jr. through art, language and service during the annual MLK Day of Impact on January 20.
MLK Day of Impact is a two-part tradition at Florida Southern that focuses on remembering King’s legacy through a speaker presentation and student community outreach initiative. Each year, the program aims to educate the student body on the importance of unity and embracing diversity within one’s surrounding community.
Sheila McCants, the District Program Manager in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Special Programs at Hillsborough Community College, spoke at this year’s event.
“There are all kinds of social issues: race, gender, age, sustainability, poverty, hunger, [and] abilities,” McCants said. “All [of] these impact our community on a local and global level, but when we see ourselves as part of that community, when we see ourselves as co-owners of that community, that’s when we become part of the solution.”
Student leaders were among the planning committee(s) for this event, while others had art displayed at the entrance or performed musical or written pieces. The event program was a collaboration between the Evett L. Simmons Center for Multicultural Appreciation, the Multicultural Student Council, the Student Government Association and the Center for Student Involvement.
SGA introduced the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion position to the organization’s executive board during the March 2019 election period. The VPDI serves as a liaison between the SGA body and diversity and culture appreciation organizations on campus like MSC and Allies. The organization’s bylaws state the standing VPDI should “research and recommend improvements in the areas of student life as it relates to diversity and inclusion.” Katte Vargas is the first student to hold this position.
“This year, because of the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion position, we were able to partner up with more people. So, we had a graphic design professor, Dr. Romero, assign art projects for students to do and I think that it was very impactful that people were able to come in and just see all of that art,” Vargas said.
The poster exhibit was displayed in the entrance lobby of the George W. Jenkins Field House during the event. Samuel Romero, Ph.D., an associate professor of art at FSC, assigned students in his advanced design course to reference posters from the civil rights movement and create a collective series of MLK quotes with custom typography styles.
“I wanted to focus on [MLK’s] words, which at the time, were radical. The reference to civil rights posters gave the quotes context. These ideas and his words came with a price. I hoped that the posters would act as a reminder of what the celebration was about,” Romero said.
The observance of King, held on the third Monday in January, was declared by President Ronald Reagan in November 1983. The federal holiday celebrates the life, achievements and teachings of the American civil rights leader. Across the country, Americans designate the holiday as a national day of service to volunteer on behalf of non-profit organizations throughout the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
“MLK Day means coming together as a community and trying to make a difference, as he did. So, it doesn’t matter what service that is or if you’re just learning more about it, it also helps,” Chaunte Shim, MSC President said.
Day of Impact enables students to collectively participate in a service activity that aims to benefit the Lakeland community in a positive outlook.
The hosting organizations partnered with kidsPACK for this year’s act of service. kidsPACK of Polk County is a non-profit whose mission is to provide meals to underprivileged children when they do not have access to subsidized school meals. According to a college press release, attendees wrapped 250 kidsPACK meals. Each tray given to the students contains six weekend meals, including two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners. Students have worked with this organization during the annual MLK remembrance event since 2017.
“I am so proud that Florida Southern College is an institution that reveres the legacy of Dr. Martin Lurther King and I’m equally proud and [grateful] that ours is a college community that embraces diversity and works hard toward inclusivity,” Dr. Anne Kerr said.
Hosting organizations hope to further improve the 2021 MLK Day of Impact by incorporating students in an aspect that explores a modern approach to King’s messages. Shim expressed an interest in hosting a national speaker with a background working with advocate and other organizational projects. Vargas said she wants to further explore adding additional service projects, as seen in 2018.
“Next year I would really push for there to be two or three service projects and I think it would be very beneficial,” Vargas said. “There are 200 people that show up to this event, so there is the probability for the people to do more than one service project.”