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MLK Day at Finlandia: A growing tradition of service and respect

January 14, 2017

FinnU Students

Since its inception as a national holiday in 1983, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day has been a time for citizens of the United States and of all nations to celebrate the memory of one of the civil rights movement’s most influential figures, and to spend the day in service, working together towards building and improving our communities.

This year marks Finlandia University’s second annual MLK Day of Service, a day marked by events of remembrance and community involvement in keeping with the legacy and ideals of Dr. King. “We have lots of opportunities, actually, at Finlandia,” said René Johnson, Chair of the Equity and Diversity Committee at Finlandia, in the January 13 edition of Finlandia Fridays. “We have service sites that I’m most interested in promoting for people to be involved in on Monday. We have a worship service, a special speaker, we have a brunch. . . and then we have a film in the evening- a full day of activities for our campus.”

Involvement in MLK Day

These additional opportunities at this year’s MLK Day have been met with enthusiastic participation. “It’s been a great response,” said Johnson, responding to the increased number of students and faculty volunteering for events this year, which looks to be an even better turnout than last year. In 2016’s MLK Day events, “we had about 100 faculty, staff and students participate” said Erin Barnett, Director of Academic Success and Student Life.

Collaboration with local organizations has expanded, too. “We worked with 13 community partners [last year] and this year we have 17,” Barnett said. Feedback regarding student volunteering has been very positive, and “many of those sites were excited to welcome us back this year,” she said. “Last year, students engaged in a variety of projects, including wood chopping and home winterization for Little Brothers, assisting the art classroom at Houghton Elementary, organization tasks at 31 Backpacks and the Salvation Army.” New partners this year include Little Huskies, The Girl Scouts, Western Upper Peninsula Food Bank and Cypress Manor.

Dr. King’s ideals at Finlandia

Finlandia University’s pursuit of Dr. King’s noble goals of equality and community service doesn’t stop at MLK Day: “Finlandia has service embedded in its mission statement,” said Barnett. “Part of [the] purpose of a liberal arts education is to foster critical thinking, engage in questions of morality and ethics, and to become an engaged citizen. Through our curriculum and learning outcomes, we live into King’s ideals both in and out of the classroom.”

Finlandia’s deep connections to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America also tie closely with Dr. King’s objectives and personal history. “Both MLK and Martin Luther were catalysts for societal change, fought for justice, were of strong faith and continue to influence the world,” explained Barnett. The goal of working through community and faith to create a better future for everyone is closely aligned with Finlandia’s objectives as a university, as reflected in its mission statement. Finlandia is “a learning community dedicated to academic excellence, spiritual growth and service,” principles that MLK Day was created to nurture and uphold.

Student perspectives

With increased involvement from both the university and local community members, Finlandia’s MLK Day of Service 2017 continues the tradition started with last year’s inaugural event, and sets a precedent of growing participation and recognition for this historically and contemporarily significant holiday. Isaac Tucker (pictured above), a senior in Healthcare Management and Vice President of Student Senate, said that these expansions to Finlandia’s recognition of MLK Day have been a step in the right direction. “I feel that Finlandia recognizing MLK Day is amazing,” said Tucker. “It shows the school’s growth since my first arriving on campus.”

There is still more that can be done, according to Tucker. “I think that Finlandia can work to improve its involvement and pursuit of Dr. King’s goals and legacy by remembering that many students come from a different background and culture than is generally found in the U.P.,” he said. “I feel that the university showing recognition of this holiday, which it didn’t in the past, goes a very long way.”

For more information on MLK Day at Finlandia, including a detailed listing of the event schedule, head over to finlandia.edu/mlkday. To hear more from René Johnson about MLK Day, check out her interview on Finlandia Fridays, available on iTunes and YouTube.

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