Celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

January 8, 2024

UM-Dearborn hosts the annual MLK Day of Service on Jan. 15, followed by a week of events that highlight Dr. King and the importance of continued social justice work.

Two members of a sorority cut fabric to make blankets during the UM-Dearborn MLK Day of Service in 2022
Members of the UM-Dearborn community make blankets that were donated to local nonprofits during the MLK Day of Service in 2022.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. worked tirelessly toward creating a just and equitable society where people were valued and respected, regardless of skin color, abilities or social class. To do this, the civil rights leader and Nobel Prize winner advocated for peaceful approaches to some of society's biggest problems — problems that continue today, more than 55 years after his assassination. 

“Dr. King challenged systemic oppression and the people in power were threatened by his words and peaceful actions. Dr. King practiced what he preached. He changed us for the better. And he was murdered for it,” says Mechanical Engineering and Bioengineering Graduate Programs Coordinator Rebekah Awood, a 2000 UM-Dearborn alum who’s participated in MLK Day of Service events on campus for nearly 25 years. “Dr. King changed lives through acts of service — we still need to continue his work and do better. This time of year is a reminder to follow his lead and help where you can, however you can.”

To offer service opportunities in honor of King's legacy, UM-Dearborn is hosting the annual MLK Day of Service and Week of Events, which is a partnership with Henry Ford College, on Jan. 15. There are several volunteer opportunities available on campus, in the community or remotely at home. Times and locations vary, depending on the volunteer opportunity chosen. Opening remarks for the event will take place at 9:30 a.m. in Kochoff Hall in the Renick University Center. 

During the MLK Day of Service’s 31-year history at UM-Dearborn, more than 8,500 people have volunteered 42,000 hours in Detroit and the surrounding areas, says Civic Engagement Coordinator JaNai’ James. James says she hopes students, faculty, staff and community members will sign up and add to these numbers and the community impact made.

“There are many ways to get involved. You have strengths that your community needs. If you are concerned that you don’t have the skills to build a house or something like that, I want to let you know that it’s OK. I don’t have that either. All you need to have is a willingness to help,” she says. “If you are open to helping, there is someone who will accept your help.”

James says there are new volunteer opportunities this year. Volunteers are needed to assemble play kits for hospitalized children, create chew toys for shelter animals and put together welcome bags for families entering homeless shelters. This is in addition to soup kitchen assistance, food pantry stocking and clean-up work. Partner organizations include Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Project Sunshine, Auntie Na’s House, Kids Against Hunger, Eternal Light, Wayne Metro Community Action Agency, World Medical Relief Detroit, Tuckerville Transitions House and more.

“Everyone has their own reasons for why they participate, but we all share that we got out of bed on a day off and are choosing to put good into the world,” James says. “The MLK Day of Service emphasizes Dr. King’s spirit of service while giving us time to reflect on our actions and our values. It’s hopefully the first step toward a much larger question: ‘How can we continue this work?’”

Awood says she and her daughter Abigail, 11, will participate again in this year’s day of service. The pair take part in the MLK Day of Service yarn group — they knit and crochet hats and scarves that are then donated to local organizations — that meets in Fairlane Center. Echoing James’ sentiments, Awood says she needs to remember that every act counts — even when it seems small.

Awood, who grew up in a church that preached white supremacy and gender divides, uses the homemaking skills she was required to learn as a way to give warmth to people in need. As Awood crochets, she’s performing her small act of peaceful resistance to honor King’s legacy. 

As a child, Awood recalls hearing church leaders say hateful things about Dr. King. “In my childhood innocence, I didn’t understand why they vilified him so much. We were Baptist. He was a Baptist preacher, too. He was formally educated in religious studies. His message was biblically sound,” she says. “When I later connected the comments people made about him to who he was as a person, I finally understood that they vilified him because he was Black. It was disgusting. I consider that a point on my timeline where I realized I needed to educate myself, question the status quo and, finally, leave my church.”

Since the late 1990s, Awood has volunteered during UM-Dearborn’s MLK Day of Service and sought out other opportunities for service. She’s sung in choir performance tributes to MLK, driven students to service sites and attended expert-led conversation-based events that discussed systemic racism. She says she continues to participate and seek out knowledge because learning is continuous.

“Sometimes it feels like there is never enough we can do to undo the damage of things we were taught or experienced — and that these system injustices are too big to take on. But I remind myself that every bit, even if it feels tiny, helps,” Awood says. “The first step is showing up. Then you put in some work. What happens from there is up to us.” 

Here are campus events taking place next week that highlight MLK and the importance of continued social justice work.

Civil Rights Anthems Display
ongoing, Mardigian Library 
Discover the music that accompanied the movement. The Mardigian Library will have a display on Civil Rights anthems for MLK week. The display will feature a short history of each song, including the iconic "We Shall Overcome," and provide an opportunity to listen to each of the songs. 

MLK Week of Events Keynote with UM-Flint Chief Diversity Officer David Luke
1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, Zoom. 

UM-Flint’s Chief Diversity Officer David Luke reflects on MLK’s legacy through the context of the recent ban on affirmative action and attacks on its successor — diversity, equity and inclusion. While some argue that Dr. King would be opposed to DEI interventions, Luke argues that affirmative action and DEI are outgrowths of the Civil Rights Movement and are tools consistent with Dr. King's fight against racism and systemic oppression.

2024 MLK Peace Rally
11 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18. Meet at the Renick University Center.

Poster making begins at 11 a.m.; the rally starts at noon at the RUC's northeast entrance.

A peaceful march from UM-Dearborn to Henry Ford College recognizes the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and  commemorates the role that protest has taken in shaping our society. Hear a keynote address from Henry Ford College African American Studies Professor Kalvin Harvell. The rally will end at Henry Ford College's Building L. Refreshments will be provided upon arrival at HFC.


Article by Sarah Tuxbury