While we may be greeting 2022 amidst national and global challenges, many of us use the month of January to consider what we want to do in the year ahead. For those of us in the U.S., one day this month reminds us of the importance of service towards all and the impact one man had and continues to have on the world.
For the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business community, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be a time of observance and reflection. Our students, faculty, staff, and alumni are dedicated to putting in the work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything they do and they remain committed to fighting inequality and injustice.
We asked several Scheller students, faculty, staff, and alumni to reflect on this day of service and tell us what it means to them, the traditions they’ll observe, and how they plan on celebrating this year. Their answers show not only a desire to serve, but an abiding belief in the impact each of us can make in defending peace and justice.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. Day mean to you?
Savannah Thomas, MBA ’23, uses the beginning of the year as a time for internal reflection but on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, looks outward.
“I often spend the time leading up to the new year thinking about what I wish I had done in the year prior or what I want to change about myself in the year ahead, but Martin Luther King Jr. Day motivates me to think more externally about the life I'm leading and the impact I have in my community,” she said.
For Jewel Perkins, undergraduate academic advisor, she has observed a change in the way she thinks about the holiday.
“Before navigating my twenties and entering a new phase as a young professional, MLK Jr. Day had always been something that I knew was important, knowing he had played a pivotal role in the things I am able to achieve today. But ultimately, the main event was having a day off from school. The meaning of the day has evolved as I’ve explored what it means to me to be a Black woman in America. Now that I work with students, I feel a certain sense of pride and responsibility to share my journey. This holiday is a reminder of that pride and responsibility,” she reflected.
Like Perkins, Dr. D.J. Wu, Ernest Scheller Jr. Chair in Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Commercialization, embraces Dr. King’s message of service to others.
“Two things Dr. King has shown us: ‘strength to love’ and serving others. These are two sides of the same coin and loving and serving others moves the world, especially in today’s world,” he said.
For Avielle Krug, an Atlanta native and undergraduate alumna, the holiday has always had a personal, historic meaning.
“It’s a great day to reflect on our own history and the impact it’s had on the very city we call home. As a Jewish woman, I always think of the famous picture of Dr. King marching with Rabbi Heschel through Selma. The American-Jewish population have always had strong ties to the civil rights movement, and I believe it’s essential to ensure the lives of these brave individuals are highlighted today. It’s a living story of empathy, community, and unity,” she noted.
Do you have a tradition for the holiday?
While she won’t be attending this year due to Covid-19, Camerin White, Full-time MBA recruiting manager, has a specific tradition she follows every year.
“Usually, I attend a breakfast in my hometown of Pell City, Alabama to celebrate Dr. King. Around 150 to 200 people from surrounding counties unite to eat and share stories about civil rights, the achievements of African Americans because of the leadership of King, and how far we have advanced,” she explains.
Each year, Wu uses his classroom as a space for teaching students to reflect on their purpose as they pursue their careers after graduation and to inspire students as he was inspired by Dr. King as a child growing up in China.
“Dr. King’s revolutionary determination for social justice inspired the entire world. I was fired up by his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech when I was in middle school in China. Here at Scheller, I always start a class with Dr. King’s question, ‘What are you doing for others?’ and remind students of this question throughout the course. We end the class by emphasizing the strength to love when Scheller students go out and transform the business world,” he said.
Krug described how she observed the day when she was a student.
“At Georgia Tech, I participated in the MLK Day of Service each year. All of my friends and I would choose projects to work on that either impacted the campus or the greater Atlanta community,” she recalls.
For Thomas and Perkins, they’ll use the time to reflect on what the day means to them personally.
“I never really thought of this as a tradition,” said Perkins, “but I always take some time to reflect on the impact MLK Jr. has had on my life, Black Americans, and our culture. It’s just something that I end up doing every year,” she said.
Thomas will use the day to remember the impact Dr. King has had in the world. “While I don't have any annual traditions for the holiday, I plan to reserve time this year to reflect on both community and world events, read from How To Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, and make a donation to the ACLU,” she said.
Do you have any plans for this day, and if so, what are they?
While Covid-19 may keep these five from celebrating in person this year, each of them will do something to observe the holiday.
“While I don’t have any plans this year due to Covid-19, I always love to drive to the city’s newest Martin Luther King Jr. statue to reflect on the history,” noted White.
Perkins chooses to contribute locally. “In recent years, I have typically ordered food from a Black-owned restaurant or supported a Black-owned business in some way. I also love to encourage others to do so by promoting these businesses on my social media platforms,” she says.
Wu will be using his involvement in Georgia Tech and Scheller’s programs to continue incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into his teaching.
“I plan to apply DE&I principles in every dimension: teaching, research, and service. For example, I plan to research how to use digital technology to solve the social justice challenges we are facing. I will continue practicing anti-racist pedagogy and developing culturally responsive teaching principles like using student-centered instruction, creating inquiry-based and discovery-oriented curriculum, encouraging a community of learners, and sharing with the Scheller community and beyond,” he notes.
Each of these individuals apply their own experiences and perspectives to remembering the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thomas summarizes the shared commitment of the Scheller community well: “The holiday serves as a reminder of the impact one can have when we choose to stand up against inequity.”