Scores of Clemson University students chose to forgo a prototypical college break and spend the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday volunteering at local service organizations as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service.
The MLK Day of Service, at Clemson sponsored by the Harvey and Lucinda Gantt Multicultural Center, is intended to be a day that celebrates MLK’s legacy and commitment to community-building. Over the decades since its inception in 1994, the MLK Day of Service at Clemson has become a tradition for more and more people as the campus and greater Clemson community embrace the idea that citizenship involves taking a more active role in service work. This year Clemson student participants served with six community partners in Clemson, Central. Pendleton and Anderson.
One group of students spent the day at Clemson Community Care, a nonprofit charitable organization established in 1988 by ministers of various denominational churches in Clemson, Central and Pendleton. The food bank gives out more than 1,500 pounds of food a day.
“They come every year, and it’s incredibly meaningful,” said Karen Carter, executive director of Clemson Community Care. “We have a small staff, and we don’t have time to do everything with our increased client load, which increased 59 percent last year, so the students help us do things we don’t always have time to do. It helps us catch up, so this day is really a bonus for us.”
Student volunteer leader Tino Mataruka, a senior from Rock Hill, South Carolina, studying management, spent the morning working with several other students to sort and organize an attic full of school supplies and holiday decorations. He said he decided to spend the day off classes serving others out of a sense of gratitude and responsibility.
“Clemson has given a lot to me, so I want to give back and help the community,” he said. “MLK Day means a lot. It’s huge. People that look like me wouldn’t have so much opportunity without him. I appreciate that, and service is a good way to show that appreciativeness.”
Across town at the Helping Hands Thrift Store, which raises money for its namesake foster home for children, Danae McDaniel, a junior from Atlanta studying biological sciences, spent the day sorting through boxes of donated clothing and hanging them neatly on sale racks for customers.
“I wanted to come out on this special day to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by helping people,” she said. “Being a Black person myself, I’m very grateful for the path that MLK paved for me because he strived for a bigger purpose and did it respectfully so that everyone could come to a consensus.”
On the other side of the store, Daniel Spencer, site coordinator for the Clemson cohort of Call Me MISTER®, worked with a contingent of Clemson Misters to move piles of furniture around and clear aisles for customers. Spencer was there with his whole family, including his young son Oliver, who enthusiastically jumped in to help the college men however he could.
“Anything with the Misters, he wants to do,” laughed Spencer, who noted that more than 20 Misters would participate throughout the day.
Tyson Owens, a senior elementary education major from Williamson, South Carolina, said volunteering at Helping Hands is nothing new for Clemson’s Call Me MISTER® program members.
“We’re here almost every weekend,” he said.
Owens was reflective when asked what Martin Luther King Jr. means to him.
“Strength,” he said. “If it weren’t for what he fought for, what he struggled for, and eventually what he died for, I wouldn’t be here. MLK created opportunities for all of us and Call Me MISTER® is a perfect example of how far we’ve come and have to go.”
Meanwhile, at the Clemson Area African American Museum, executive director Angela Agard Solomon first tasked the dozen students sent to help her with breaking down some boxes. And then gave them a different kind of task.
“They helped us in terms of a survey,” explained Agard Solomon. “I had them look at an art installation and give me feedback on what we need to do to attract more people.”
The installation was a stunning collection of wood collages created by Felicia Gibbs Greenlee, a 1993 Clemson’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program graduate.
Jalen Cherry, a sophomore from Columbia, South Carolina, majoring in biological sciences with a minor in psychology, was one of the students sent to the museum.
“I wanted to honor MLK and his legacy,” said Cherry. “I feel like coming together is one of the best things about service, at least for me. Helping people makes me grow as a person. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, and that dream is a foundation for where we are today.”