By Valerie McMurray – firstname.lastname@example.org – Staff Writer
This week marks the seventh annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Week hosted by UNC Asheville, as students and faculty prepare a week of recognition and remembrance.
Each year, students, faculty and staff devote their time to recognizing the civil rights leader’s feted birthday by doing hands-on work in community-oriented service projects coordinated by the Adelaide Worth Daniels Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service-Learning.
The Key Center partners with the Intercultural Center annually to host MLK week. “Generated by Love: A Legacy of Service” is this week’s theme for 2014.
Among those committed to serving community projects are 130 students in 14 student organizations. The list of projects includes Habitat for Humanity, Cherokee Youth Garden, Asheville Humane Society and the WNC Nature Center.
“We have a lot of students who come to this institution very interested in that. I think that speaks to UNC Asheville’s deep commitment to making sure that our student body is civically engaged, that they are providing quality service and giving back to their communities,” said Lamar Hylton, director of the Intercultural Center, who said he has seen student involvement grow during the last three years.
“They tell us what they want to do, which is fantastic,” he said. “We want them to be leaders in their communities when they leave here with their degrees.”
Volunteers signed up beginning last September by forming teams and choosing a community project.
Students are involved in each part of MLK Week planning, according to Hylton, from ideas for volunteer projects and campus events to poster design.
When students heard UNCA will bring nationally-recognized civil rights activist and slam poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph to deliver the keynote speech on campus this year, they helped the Multicultural Center develop a workshop in which students will produce spoken word poetry with social justice themes.
Colette Heiser, who leads Rock(y) the Mic Spoken Word Poetry, will open the keynote speech for Joseph by performing one of her own pieces.
“I’m humbled and honored to work with him, of course,” said Heiser, a senior at UNCA and a student employee of the Multicultural Center
The first MLK event for the 2014 lineup was a screening of a documentary, “Gideon’s Army,” presented by Dawn Porter, a filmmaker, and Travis Williams, a Georgia state public defender who is featured in the film. The screening took place in Lipinsky Hall last Friday evening.
The film follows Williams and his colleagues through poignant cases in which their defendants face high minimum mandatory sentences, since under the current justice system standard, there is more pressure on the public defender to prove defendants innocent than for the prosecution team to prove them guilty, according to Porter.
“The biggest injustices happening throughout our country happen in small courtrooms here in the South and we gotta do what we can to change that. This is the next phase of the civil rights movement,” Williams said at the screening.
Students said activism doesn’t end after the designated day of service. Jill Moffitt, assistant vice chancellor for student life, led a lunch and learn workshop called, “Social Justice: What Does it Mean to You?” in the Intercultural Center on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s highlight is a screening of “American Promise,” a documentary film following two talented African-American boys attending a prestigious, predominantly white private school during the course of 14 years. The film depicts their successes and struggles as a social experiment attempting to investigate the relationship between race and private schools in the United States. It will be held at 7 p.m. in Alumni Hall.
Joseph, a National Poetry Slam champion renowned not only for his award-winning spoken-word poetry, activism and environmentalist work, but also writing and directing hip-hop theatre and his early ballet career, will speak on Thursday at 7 p.m. in Lipinsky Hall.
Students who want to learn the workings of the art of spoken-word poetry can attend the workshop at 8 p.m. on Friday in the Highsmith Union Grotto.