Western hosts inaugural session in honor of MLK

In 1957, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered a speech in Montgomery, Ala., in which he posed a simple, but “most persistent and urgent” question: “What are you doing for others?”

This past Monday, Western State Colorado University commemorated King, a man most often recognized as a civil rights leader, with an inaugural MLK Day of Service. Western was not alone. The service day took place across the country Monday.

“We kind of wanted to bring it to life here at Western, since we’ve never had something like this go on,” said Annie Westbury, program coordinator for Student Engagement. “It was the students who were able to piece together all the nonprofits and get the event going.”

The day began with a speech from professor Maria Struble, who encouraged students to think about hard questions concerning human rights, migration and power as global citizens rather than passive observers.

Struble spoke of simple things we can all do to to contribute a positive force to our community — including embracing vulnerability, making our bodies political weapons, and making it our mission for the day to make somebody laugh. Most importantly, she urged remembering that the only prison that can truly exist is in the mind.

Morgan Millmore, a junior at Western, followed by speaking of the “beloved community” that King often referenced, asking the crowd: “What does the word beloved mean?”

Students and other volunteers offered words such as precious, cherished and dear. All of those words are right in their own way. So, how do we build and maintain our beloved community?

For Western’s Day of Service, the beloved community came together to aid six separate causes. The Gunnison Food Pantry, Gunnison Senior Care Center, Tenderfoot Child and Family Development Center, Gunnison Food Pantry, Six Points Thrift Store and Chipeta Garden and Greenhouse all hosted volunteers to help in ways big and small.

The Gunnison Food Pantry used the day to teach people about the resources available to them through the pantry. Students got the chance to play games and socialize at the Gunnison Senior Care Center, as well as help with other small chores. Tenderfoot received help with organizing and doing some deep cleaning.

Zach Goldenberg, aspiring farmer and head greenhouse gardener, volunteered his time weeding and replanting aloe vera alongside other volunteers at Chipeta.

“I wanted to start new growth for the season, get everyone excited,” explained Goldenberg. “Just adding some life to all the death outside.”

Six Points is a nonprofit organization that provides education, training and assistance and support to all adults and families with special needs.

Nancy Lakiotes, operations manager at Six Points, loved the idea of a service day for the community. Students got to learn about the daily operations of the thrift store and the daily lives of the people who work there.

“This has been great, the groups are really engaged,” said Lakiotes. “Our folks love to meet new people, someone that’s not necessarily staff.”

The volunteer opportunities at Six Points are unique, explained Lakiotes.

“We are probably one of the only places that considers just coming in and hanging out volunteering,” she said.

Western’s mission on MLK Day was to reflect on gains won during the Civil Rights Movement — and to address contemporary issues facing the nation by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.

“I think this is an awesome idea, and I’d definitely love to repeat it,” said Lakiotes.

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com)