Students in field

A Tradition Rooted In Service

July 5, 2019

On a snowy Monday in early January you’ll find students and staff of Finlandia University forgoing the traditional classroom in favor of community outreach and service to honor a man who had a dream.

As a Baptist minister who saw no separation between faith and social activism, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. changed the trajectory of civil rights in the United States. To honor his legacy, classes are suspended for the day so that Finlandia students, staff, alumni and friends of the university can make their little bit of difference serving the community.

It’s a tradition that began in 2016 with a handful of students and staff who believed that MLK Day had the possibility of being more significant for Finlandia and the surrounding community.

“This was a student-lead initiative by members of the Black Student Union,” said Leann Fogle, Director of Residence Life. “They wanted to work with Finlandia to make MLK Day a special event rather than just holding regular classes.”

With the help of the Coordinator of Student Engagement and Leadership at the time, Tempest Bryant, they were able to connect with local schools, non-profits and agencies to organize the event for its first year. A new tradition was planted.

In addition to taking time to give back and serve the community the day’s purpose would be to take time away from the everyday grind to be intentionally curious about the struggle for racial equity in the country and engage in dialogue on the difficult issue of racial inequality.

Four years later the Day of Service has grown to 20 services sites around the community with more than 200 students and staff partaking in the day’s events. Service sites stretch from Calumet to South Range and have volunteers providing a helping hand anywhere from local elementary schools and retirement homes to parks and community centers.

“Our goal is always to assist our students in establishing the habit of that day gaining some sort of significance in their lives,” said Dr. René Johnson, Assistant Professor of Religion and Director of Servant Leadership. “There are rituals and traditions associated with other holidays and our hope is that we can establish in the heart of students that same recognition of MLK Day, making it a ritual to take time away from our own concerns and be of service to others.”

Fogle, who also serves as coordinator of transportation for the Day of Service, agreed.

“It’s become a vital part of the experience at Finlandia,” she said. “After students get involved the feedback we hear is that they want to find more ways to get involved and keep helping the community.”

The feedback from the community has also been positive, said Johnson. Community members are extremely grateful for the help and continue to reach out each year.

Truly, the day is a team effort. Students, staff, alumni and friends of the university have bought into the idea of service and the tradition continues to grow.

This upcoming January of 2020 will mark the fifth year of this special tradition and service still remains at the heart of it all.

“Service is important,” emphasized Johnson. “It is part of our mission statement and contributes to the well-rounded education we provide at Finlandia. This speaks to the kind of human we want to graduate.”

That’s ultimately what the day is about. Growing as a person through honoring the memory of a man who stood up for injustice by engaging in a dialogue, giving back and being a part of the community.

Learn more at finlandia.edu/mlkday.

This article on MLK Day of Service originally appeared in the Spring 2019 Edition of the Bridge magazine. If you would like to receive your own copy of the Bridge please visit our publications page. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be releasing digital copies of all stories from that publication. Read more stories for the Bridge

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