Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was many things: a civil rights icon, a spiritual guide, a son, a husband and a father.
But above all things, King was a servant.
A servant to his community, his church, his people and his country at a time when he couldn’t be or wasn’t allowed to be served in parts of that country.
“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve,” King once said. “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
Because of King’s overwhelming grace and love, it is no surprise that nearly 50 years since he was gunned down, on a day that is marked as a constant reminder of the man, a large group of college students, from all over the world, would choose to wake up early on their day off from classes to remember a man and to serve.
“You are the group of folks who really took to heart that MLK Day is not a day off but a day on,” Richard Carpinelli, West Virginia University Institute of Technology’s dean of students, told 115 students inside Carter Hall before they were sent out to their assigned locations.
WVU Tech students, 63 more than last year, were sent to eight community service sites, from the Summit Bechtel Reserve to the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia.
At the latter, students helped with the local Empty Bowls project put on by the Beckley Quota Club.
Every year the club oversees the creation of handmade bowls that are then used to raise funds for local food pantries.
“Over the course of five years, they’ve raised, I think, over $50,000,” said Leslie Baker.
Baker, who is the director of parks and recreation for the City of Beckley, is also the director of operations for the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and the Youth Museum.
“The reason they choose bowls is there is a large percentage of the world’s population that exists on one bowl of rice a day,” Baker said.
Baker believes that the celebration of King’s life is the perfect day and the perfect way to involve the community and the university in charitable works.
“He wanted this country to come together, to be one, to love one another and to help,” she said. “These young people have come to our community, they are wanting to be a part of it and they are doing their part to help.”
While King’s goal may have been to unite a country, his message spread much further.
Prince Idornigie, a WVU Tech student who came to the event with the entire men’s soccer team, said that he often heard about King in his native Nigeria.
“His legacy, to me, is one of the highest kinds of pathways to follow,” Idornigie said. “As a young man, I see him to be like a role model. If I see him to be like a role model, I would like to do things the way he did things.”
The young man said that he enjoyed sharing the day with the members of his team who come from many backgrounds and from all over the world because each of them offered a unique insight into what the day and the work of King meant to them.
“Coming together to see what it really means to have such an occasion, MLK Day, it’s a really good privilege for everyone,” Idornigie said.
Candice Stadler, associate dean for student development at WVU Tech, was blown away by the day’s student involvement.
“It’s very exciting for us as a university,” Stadler said. “We are very proud that they (the students) decided to get up this cold day, that they could have all slept in, to come out and do service.”
The day of service was an easy choice for William Adarkwah.
“I think it’s something that everyone needs to do at least once in a while,” Adarkwah said. “I think helping out the community is a pretty good thing to do, especially on MLK Day of all days. Service was a massive part of what he was all about.”
The WVU Tech soccer player and native of Australia was excited to share the day of service with his teammates and the greater Beckley community.
“No matter where we come from, we all know who Martin Luther King is,” he said. “We can all respect that. He had traits that we all aspire to. I think it’s good that we can all come together on this day.”
The fact that King was assassinated nearly 50 years ago didn’t lessen the shine of King’s life as felt by the young man.
“It’s a testament to what his character was and what he was about,” Adarkwah said. “I think 50 years on if someone remembers something that I’ve done, I think that’s amazing.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH