During the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, 10 students from S.T.A.T.E. Village participated in the National Day of Service event in Atlanta, Ga., to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy through service and volunteerism. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems and moves volunteers closer to the iconic Civil Rights leader’s vision of a “beloved community.”
The idea for the trip began as a desire to create a high-impact experience for S.T.A.T.E. Village participants with relevant and tangible outcomes to be applied to their personal, academic and professional pursuits, according to Cliff Jones, Residence Director at Wolf Village. The experience was designed to educate residents about the importance and significance of leadership, social justice and the role of service in American society.
Jotionette Jones, a sophomore studying Political Science and a member of the S.T.A.T.E. Village, signed up for the trip because she thought it would be a good opportunity for her. “I felt like this trip would be most beneficial to my career choice,” she said. “I took advantage of the opportunity to go to Atlanta during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day because what better experience is there?”
Before embarking on the trip, students were asked to read Start with Why by Simon Sinek. The book weaves together a clear vision of what it takes to lead and inspire, which would frame the students’ experiences and allow participants to broaden their perspectives of leadership. The book also served as a basis for reflective activities throughout the trip.
“What I got from the book is that when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, it’s better to start out with why you want to do those things,” Jotionette said. “As opposed to a basis of ‘Oh this will make me a lot of money,’ it needs to be a basis of ‘Well I want to help people. I want to create a better life for other people.’”
Once in Georgia, the trip was filled with many exciting events, including visits to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the King Center, CNN Studio, World of Coca-Cola and watching Selma, a movie about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights through a march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. in 1965. This year marked the 50thanniversary of the Bloody Sunday March.
There were also group activities and reflections facilitated by the trip advisors that were designed to provide participants with the opportunities and resources to identify and develop their own leadership skills. They also provided participants with the language and perspectives to consider and communicate with the realities of their current environments, according to Cliff Jones.
Alyssa Fea, a senior studying Communications and a Resident Mentor for the Village, found that the activity that most impacted her was exploring the National Center for Civil and Human Rights after watching “Selma.”
“I feel like the Center was concrete evidence of what we saw in the movie. It was an experience of its own.”
Jotionette also enjoyed the National Center for Civil and Human Rights because of the Greensboro sit-ins restaurant exhibit.
“We were actually able to sit in the table,” she said. “And you had to put your hands on the table and just listen and put headphones on. It was re-enacting that and actually putting yourself in their position, and it was really a hard thing to do. You had to sit there and listen for a minute and a half with people calling your name and kicking your chair for you to get up. It was really just, I don’t know.” She stopped, at a loss for words. “It was a good experience, but I really had mixed emotions about that.”
However, the main event for the group was helping an under-privileged community build its garden on the MLK Day of Service. Students mulched the budding garden and dug trenches for future houses. “It was really just a humbling experience,” Jotionette said. “The entire trip was.”
Throughout the trip participants critically examined assumptions and appreciated the importance of service and leadership through planned, intentional interactions after each activity. They also learned more ways to communicate, understand and respect unfamiliar people, cultures and perspectives, as well as learned to take positive social risks within a safe, inclusive environment, through advisor-led discussions and activities designed to maximize the impact of each excursion.
“Residents began to understand that leadership comes from experiences, histories and places as much as it comes from physical attributes,” he said. “They were able to learn the impact of service through several lenses, including privilege and oppression, through creating an experiential map using the group as a reference point, as well as through acknowledging their own experiences, privileges and lenses in an effort to learn about their peers, as well as learn ways to support social awareness and change.”
For Jotionette, the trip was beneficial because she wants to pursue law. “Being that Dr. King was such an influential person in that field, not necessarily in Civil Rights law, but in Civil Rights in general, it was really just a beneficial experience for me,” she said. “Some of the activities we did as a group allowed me to put my goals and things onto paper and make it tangible and actually almost like pushed me to do those things even more and give me more reasons to do so.”
Not only was the trip a success for students like Jotionette, but for everyone involved. During her time in Georgia, Fea learned how one person can and does make a difference in society.
“Martin Luther King Jr. was a great example of how a leader can influence others in a positive way and make social change for a brighter future,” she said. “I learned that I should not underestimate my ability to influence others around me. I am just one person, but if I can choose to do the right thing, it might lead one other person to do the same. It’s a domino effect.”
She hopes to continue influencing and building on the momentum of the trip on through graduation.
Visit the S.T.A.T.E. Village page for more information about how to apply get involved in more trips like this throughout the year.