During this time of challenges and opportunities, Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King, a man who sowed the seeds of hope and healing. This day is a chance to remember and act on the values he embodied – truth, courage, justice, compassion, empathy, and service.
The Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business is proud to have a diverse, vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni committed to upholding the values Dr. King exemplified. We asked several of them to reflect on this upcoming day of service and tell us what it means for them, the traditions they observe, and how they plan on celebrating this year. Their answers reflect the desire to serve and abiding belief in peace and justice that defines our community.
What does the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday mean to you?
For Charles Easley, Professor of the Practice in Organizational Behavior, he points out how the holiday has gained more influence over time.
“I remember growing up when it was omitted as a holiday or day of recognition. The progression from a silent recognition where you would drive with your lights on, to a local recognition, to a floating optional holiday, to a bank holiday, and finally to a nationally recognized day, demonstrates that positive change is possible,” said Easley.
Several Scheller colleagues spoke of the importance of the holiday as a day of reflection. Kevin Stacia, Corporate Relations Manager in the Jones MBA Career Center, said, “This is a special day to honor someone who sacrificed his life advocating for civil rights, justice, and equality for all people so that we could enjoy many of the freedoms and opportunities we have today.”
For Scott Spencer, Full-time MBA student, and Devika Dutt, Undergraduate student, the holiday is a reminder of the progress and work that is still required. “For me, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a celebration of his legacy and how far America has come, while committing to continuing his work against injustice and inequality,” said Spencer. Dutt agrees, “It reminds me what he has done for this country and gives me a day that I can dedicate to service in my community.”
What Martin Luther King Jr. traditions do you observe?
Growing up in Kentucky, Full-time MBA student Angel Daniels remembers her family celebrating the holiday by visiting her uncle’s museum in Elizabethtown, Kentucky - the Emma Reno Connor Black History Gallery. “My great uncle and aunt Emma founded the gallery and after my aunt Emma passed, my uncle Charlie Connor ran the museum until he passed away in his mid to late 90’s,” she reminisced. While Daniels now observes the holiday in Atlanta, the museum is still owned by her family.
“The holiday has always been more than just a long weekend or a day off from school or work,” said Brittany McCormick, Communications Officer in Marketing and Communications, who also shares a birthday with Dr. King. “I always try and find different ways to give back to the city of Atlanta. I also read, watch, or listen to a piece I have not encountered before on Martin Luther King Jr.,” she said.
“I usually volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign and their work to achieve LGBTQ equality. Over the past few years, I’ve spent MLK Jr. Day raising money for a homeless youth shelter, registering voters, and lobbying local elected officials on issues important to underserved communities,” said Spencer.
Stacia continues to use the holiday as a day of involvement, just as he’s done for years serving others in his community. “I always try to find a community service project to support on the holiday. In the past, I have delivered meals to seniors through Meals On Wheels, planted trees in underserved communities with Trees Atlanta, sorted food donations at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, and visited members of my church who are homebound or hospitalized,” he said.
For Easley, he has been participating in the same tradition for 20 years; sharing love with friends. “I spend time reflecting during the weekend. I also reach out to lifelong friends that I have shared experiences with in the past. One of the friends I speak with happens to be white. He shared a few firsthand experiences of racism with me while we were working together just out of college in the New York/New Jersey area. The empathy, compassion, and understanding that came from those experiences formed a lifelong bond where we remain friends and a part of each other’s extended family. We were in each other’s weddings and I am the godfather to his second youngest son. For over twenty years, no matter where we are or what we are doing, on the Monday of the celebration either before or after the broadcasted service at Ebenezer Baptist Church, we talk by phone and reminisce,” he said.
How do you plan on observing the holiday?
“This year, I plan to read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and spend time reflecting on his powerful words and the relevance of this speech today,” said Christina Shalley, Sharon M. and Matthew R. Price Chair, Professor and Area Coordinator of Organizational Behavior. Both Shalley and Spencer mentioned the late Congressmen John Lewis as one they will remember this year for his fight for civil rights and the legacy he left for all to follow.
For Easley, he plans to observe the holiday by honoring his family and friends in meaningful ways. “I intend to visit the grave sites of some family and friends lost this past year to Covid-19. I also intend to visit the graves of my parents and extended family and say ‘thank you’ for their sacrifices that allowed me to have the chances that I have been able to have,” he reflected.
If Covid prevents Stacia from participating in Meals on Wheels, he plans on calling in on senior citizens from his church community and conducting wellness checks to make sure they’re okay. For Dutt, she usually gives her time to a community service program in a local elementary school, but because of Covid, she’s trying something different this year and is planning to organize a small campaign to donate luggage to foster care homes near her hometown of Douglasville, Georgia. McCormick will be giving back by donating towels and blankets to the Fulton County Animal Shelter.
Most members of the Scheller community will be tuning in to hear the Ebenezer Baptist Church broadcast service, the church where Dr. King served as minister from 1954 to 1960.
For all the Scheller community members we interviewed, they echoed a single theme in describing the meaning and significance of the holiday: It is an opportunity to reflect on Dr. King’s legacy, serve, and keep his teachings alive in their lives and communities.
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