After expanding from annual one-day event, MLK Jr. Week of Service brings campus and community together virtually

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Students, faculty, and staff from more than 13 campus units participated in service projects including translation for local immigrant populations, resume reviews, and more.

Throughout the week of January 17, first through fourth graders at a handful of South Side schools learned about other cultures and the history of activism abroad from 10 University of Chicago international students. Staff in the University’s Office of Career Advancement reviewed local residents’ resumes. Notable Chicagoans shared their stories in a series of conversations with members of the University community. And nearly 30 UChicago undergraduate and graduate students translated materials for local immigrant-serving nonprofits. These are just a few of the activities that bridged campus and community for the University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week of Service.

For years the University, like institutions across the country, has honored King with an annual Day of Service. In light of heightened community need in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges, however, University organizers expanded the 2021 event to a full week of activities. This year’s Week of Service, presented by UChicago’s University Community Service Center (UCSC) within the Office of Civic Engagement in partnership with UChicago Laboratory Schools and UChicago Charter School, gave even more local residents, South Side organizations, and campus community members an opportunity to take part.

“Ultimately, it is a testament to the work of Dr. King and other activists who suggest that our destinies are intertwined, and made stronger, when we build with those around us,” Director of Student Civic Education and the University Community Service Center Kafi Moragne-Patterson said. “The pandemic has challenged us to be innovative with the ways we generate authentic community-building across campus and the broader city of Chicago. It’s vital to work with campus and community partners to create a robust set of offerings that emphasizes the talent and skillsets embodied by the UChicago community and the many people in the neighborhoods making up our great city. I am proud of our UCSC team, and our many campus and community partners who committed to this creative effort to reach more students and community members than ever before.”

At South Shore International College Preparatory High School in South Shore, Principal Michelle Flatt and her leadership team encouraged more than 50 sophomores and 50 seniors to participate in the Week of Service by having their resumes reviewed by staff in the University’s Office of Career Advancement. The high school got involved with the project after partnering with the Office of Civic Engagement for another community engagement event, Engage Chicago, during Orientation Week in October.

“This is an amazing support because from a practical standpoint, it is helping our students with a skill that they will need for their future,” Flatt says. “It is also helpful because now more than ever, our students need to know that they are surrounded by a community of caring adults and mentors who collectively feel accountable for their success.”

Meredith Daw, Associate Vice President of Enrollment and Student Advancement and Executive Director of Career Advancement says 15 staff members in her office volunteered to review resumes throughout the week. Participants ranged from high school students like those from South Shore to mid-career professionals. Each community member had a personalized 30-minute Zoom session with a Career Advancement advisor.

“Our team knows firsthand from the work we do every day how important having a job and professional identity is for someone’s life satisfaction. At the same time, we’ve seen how the pandemic has caused disruptions across the economy – with some communities hurt far more than others,” Daw said. “Our staff is excited to deepen their relationships with the community and across the University. We also see the Week of Service as a wonderful way to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his commitment to equal opportunity for all communities.”

In the Office of International Affairs, International Student Adviser Sarah Tolman helped to organize two Week of Service offerings: matching international students to local elementary schools for virtual presentations about their native countries and working with four local community-based organizations to facilitate translation services. Tolman says she was particularly excited about the translation work some international student volunteers took on with the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC). Throughout the week, student volunteers translated resource materials meant to educate Chinese-American parents in Chicago about combatting anti-Blackness in their community as part of CBCAC’s Solidarity Project. The goal is to get the parents to understand racism in America through workshops and other education and begin to adjust their actions to address it.

“Our office has been trying to figure out ways that our students and our office can get more involved in community engagement and anti-racism and social justice work and finding a transnational lens for that, so this felt like a perfect way to tie all that together in honor of MLK and in a week when these themes are being discussed in many different spaces,” Tolman said.

Other activities and events for the week of service included but weren’t limited to:

  • Tech support sessions for select local nonprofits with students from the University’s Institute of Politics
  • At least 150 volunteers taking part in 11 large-scale virtual volunteering efforts such as book drives and food donation with local nonprofit organizations
  • My Very Own Library virtual Read Alouds for children and families
  • Virtual Letter Writing to Incarcerated People Workshop for students with the Institute of Politics, Bridge Writing Workshop, and Pozen Human Rights Lab
  • Conversations between UChicago students and senior citizens who are members of Hyde Park Village recorded and released daily
  • The launch of an ongoing City Chats series in which members of the University community and neighboring communities were invited to join virtual conversations with notable Chicagoans about their lives, careers, and Chicago journeys, starting with Jhmira Alexander of storytelling organization Public Narrative 
  • Live Mindfulness Meditation Sessions for UChicago students, faculty, and staff
  • Free virtual boxing class with Ring of Hope (pictured below)

ring of hope

To see the full list of MLK Week offerings, visit mlk.uchicago.edu/page/mlk-jr-virtual-week-service.

The “MLK Celebration: A Network of Mutuality” event was part of a broader campus-wide celebration honoring the life and legacy of King and reflecting on our collective responsibility to work towards a more equitable society. The 31st annual celebration launched on Tuesday, Jan. 12 with a virtual keynote address from Isabel Wilkerson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Humanities Medal, and best-selling author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents and The Warmth of Other Suns.

Questions? Contact Kafi Moragne-Patterson at kafi@uchicago.edu or Marquita Amoah at mamoah@uchicago.edu.

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