Annual MLK Day of Community Action combines service, education, reflection

Goddard Chapel after the snow is pictured on Feb. 7. Angelia Shi / The Tufts Daily
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Approximately 70 members of the Tufts community came together for five hours of discussion, reflection and community service activities as part of the 2022 MLK Day of Community Action on Feb. 5. The event, part of a series of chaplaincy events over the past month reflecting on the legacy and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was made possible through the University Chaplaincy and supported in part by the Arthur Vining Davis Interfaith Civic Studies Grant. 

Three student interfaith ambassadors Ariel Kayton, Neha Ratnapuri and Mandy Wang — organized the event alongside chaplaincy staff including Program Coordinator Shelby Carpenter.

The annual event returned after a hiatus last year. Carpenter explained how this year’s Day of Community Action diverged from past incarnations of the event.

“This year’s program strives to embrace a new approach to the previous and popularized ‘Day of Service’ model of MLK Day engagement by reorienting our programming towards understanding justice work of all kinds and uplifting the radical, interconnected legacy of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement – past and present,” Carpenter wrote in an email to the Daily.

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The name change from “MLK Day of Service” to “MLK Day of Community Action” was part of a reframing of the event to focus on community-wide change. Interfaith ambassadors, including Ariel Kayton, a junior, began conducting research in September 2021 to help inform the event.

“We met with Professor Peter Levine … and he told us that, as a scholar of MLK’s work, he doesn’t … see service to be the central part of this work but rather … making radical change in our communities,” Kayton explained. “We spent a long time reflecting on how we can reflect that in our name. … That was how [we] landed on ‘MLK Day of Community Action.’”

The event included a workshop inspired by Deepa Iyer’s Social Change Ecosystem and a second workshop about King’s activism, including his work for carceral justice and leadership in the Poor People’s Campaign. Participant Lydia Kresin was struck by the combination.

“It was a mixture of learning about MLK himself, the different sides of him that aren’t often talked about in school and then also learning about how this was a broader movement and other people … also played significant roles,” Kresin, a sophomore, said

The service portion of the event focused on serving two local organizations: Black and Pink Massachusetts and On The Rise. Black and Pink Massachusetts is an organization that advocates prison abolition with a particular focus on the disproportionate impact of imprisonment on LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV. On The Rise offers long-term support for unhoused women and gender minorities in the greater Boston area. Event participants assembled 300 kits with hygiene supplies and other essentials for On The Rise and wrote 78 letters to incarcerated people seeking pen pals through Black and Pink Massachusetts. 

“What we really especially loved about On The Rise and Black and Pink MA was that they put a lot of emphasis on intersectionality and a lot of emphasis on long-term, sustained relationships,” Kayton said. “These kits that we did, and also these letters, are direct needs from these organizations that they needed hands for.”

During past MLK Days of Service, students have gone off campus for service projects, but this year’s event was held entirely on the Medford campus.

“We couldn’t go off campus to do service because of COVID restrictions, … so that was one of the major changes we had to make which … forced us to think also about why and where and how we do service,” Kayton said. “We thought a lot about how we still want to do service. … How can we do it in a way that’s actually helpful for our community and not just fulfilling for our participants? Not just about making them feel good but actually filling a need.”

The format resonated with participants like Kresin. 

“I thought it was really well done, mixing the educational aspects with the service,” she said. “It didn’t feel like it was self-congratulatory in any way because we were learning about the history [of] MLK, and that kind of gave [the activities] a grounding.”

The event concluded with brief presentations from a variety of student organizations, including Students Promoting Equality, Awareness and Compassion, Students for Justice in Palestine, Tufts Climate Action and the Leonard Carmichael Society, encouraging students to take action in their community outside of the event. 

“We hope these organizations can be entry points for students to act on the theories, self-reflection, and historical re-education we will engage in,” Carpenter wrote. 

Participants felt the education and resources were meaningful.

“It feels like we now know resources to continue educating ourselves and also how to keep getting involved. So it’s not just this one time thing,” Kresin said.

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