MLK Day of Service & Learning
Washington College students, faculty, and staff celebrated the work and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 20 with an MLK read-in and free community lunch, the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater workshop in Decker Theatre, and a mix and mingle in Hodson Hall—all intended to bring College and community members together to remember the civil rights hero, and to consider how to address systemic racism today.
The day began with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast in Rock Hall, where Pat Nugent, deputy director of the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and a lecturer of history at Washington College, was honored. Members of the College’s Back Student Union, who were among the students who helped organize the day’s events, also attended and spoke. One of them, Paris Mercier ’20, the BSU president, received a standing ovation for her words.
“It was an extraordinary event, and I was very proud,” said College President Kurt Landgraf. “Dr. Nugent did an exceptional job, and Paris gave a remarkable talk.”
Nugent’s research and teaching explore twentieth-century American social movements, including the civil rights movement. He also helps to steer Chesapeake Heartland: An African American Humanities Project, Washington College’s collaboration with several local organizations and the National Museum of African American History and Culture to preserve and celebrate African American history in Kent County.
As part of that project, Doretha Williams, program manager of the Robert Fredrick Smith Fund at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, discussed the upcoming Community Curation event to be held in Chestertown April 21-26. The program is a collaboration with Chesapeake Heartland: An African American Humanities Project, which connects African American communities across generations by preserving history and sharing stories, photos, and videos to the Smithsonian’s online community collection.
As the keynote speaker at the MLK Breakfast this year, Nugent asked, “How and what did Dr. King remember? How did he think of the past and how did he use it to shape the future?”
Thinking about Dr. King as a public historian, Nugent suggested, “can help guide the way we discuss and debate the past today, sharpening the practice of history into a tool of compassion, a tiller of community, an engine for social justice.”
During the afternoon, Decker Theater was filled with local community members, staff, faculty, and students who listened to the three-hour presentation by the Racial Equality Institute (REI) that provided a data-driven analysis of systemic racism in every aspect of American culture and society.
“This is a pivotal moment for our community, a moment to reflect, to learn, and to evolve,” Landgraf said in remarks introducing the REI speakers. “We—as teachers, mentors, friends, colleagues, and human beings—have a responsibility to hear and understand all of the voices that make up our community, and to push our campus to better reflect and respond to the cultural realities of our time.”
Details about the day’s events are offered in the poster below.