A group of students from Pitt’s Litchfield Tower B offered a warm respite from the bitter cold as they served soups and sandwiches to hungry Homewood residents who visited the Bethesda Presbyterian Church Monday.
They weren’t the only group of Pitt students spending the day this way. Approximately 1,000 students dedicated their Monday off from school to serving the community in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. PittServes organized the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service to send students, faculty and alumni to work with organizations such as the VA Hospital, Emmaus Community and Wilkinsburg Borough Department of Public Works.
Buses left from Pitt at 8:30 a.m., and most students returned from their assigned projects around 2:30 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. Day ended with a vigil in remembrance of civil rights activism in the past and recognition of the social struggles of the modern era.
At Bethesda Presbyterian in Homewood, Jahvon Dockery, a senior computer science and business major, saw Martin Luther King Jr. Day as an opportunity to address these contemporary realities. Dockery associates closely with Alternative Break, an organization that offers service opportunities during the spring recess.
Rev. Jermaine McKinley led the community-centered service in an effort to provide a decent meal for anyone who wanted to stop in. The reverend managed her operation with her faith in mind and monitored the facility to make sure everyone was thoroughly cared for.
“Many elders are drastically underserved by the community,” McKinley said.
George Muirhead, a first-year political science major, chose to partake in the collective service on Monday with his fellow residents.
“The worst thing you can do is stand by and watch something bad happen,” Muirhead said.
Aaron Hill, a junior political science and communications double major, reminded students of this Monday night with a continuation of the day’s focus.
“We must always march forward, we cannot turn back,” Hill said, referencing King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
Hill and his brothers from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity braved the weather to host the night’s candlelight vigil and remind Pitt’s community that there is still important work to be done.
Along with the Omicron chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., students gathered outside of the William Pitt Union to reflect on the life of King.
Joshua Gills, a senior at Duquesne University studying business and finance, is the president of the Omicron chapter of the fraternity and said its goal for this event, and the organization as a whole, is to help the community. Alpha Phi Alpha aims to follow the example set by King, a member of the fraternity in his lifetime.
“He is a brother of this fraternity, and we aim to highlight his accomplishments,” Gills said. “Helping out the community and being instrumental in other people’s lives is something we hold dear to our hearts.”
Ian Gray, secretary of Alpha Phi Alpha and a Pitt junior studying biology and psychology, spoke to the specific goals and importance of Monday’s event.
“The importance of this event is kind of twofold,” Gray said. “It’s a remembering of our history and our fallen brother … but also it’s to remind ourselves to never forget the message that he had. The fight for civil justice and social justice for all races, not just African-Americans but all minorities.”
Gray expressed serious disdain with some of the attitudes people have about King’s legacy, especially on Pitt’s campus.
“When your mom says ‘do the dishes’ you hear her, but you forget five minutes later,” Gray said. “The problem is that people think that hearing is the same thing as listening. They hear his [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] message all the time, but it’s in one ear and out the other.”
This message was echoed by Hill, one of the speakers at the vigil. He said the sections of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech that were read during the vigil were chosen because they expressed the modern-day struggle for equality — the struggle against complacency.
“We must progress and progress even if we have made changes from then to now, and we’re still fighting for those changes, we always have to keep moving,” Hill said.
After the vigil, the fraternity led everyone indoors to discuss the passages from the speech and apply them to issues people face today. Gills said the combination of a vigil and dialogue would help people understand the message King staked his life on.
“Hopefully people will take away that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can still make an impact in your community,” Gills said. “As long as people can walk away and say, ‘I can make a difference in someone else’s life, and I can better them,’ I can say we’ve done our job.”